Working safely during COVID-19

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About Victoria

By Victoria Butt

Following updated advice given to the public in relation to COVID-19 on Sunday 10 May 2020, the government is encouraging people unable to work from home to return to work where possible. Supporting this, a “COVID-19 Secure” document has been produced by the government, providing guidance to employers, employees and the self-employed about how they can work safely.

There are guides for eight different types of workplace settings which are permitted to be open:

  • Construction and other outdoor work;

  • Factories, plants and warehouses;

  • Laboratories and research facilities;

  • Offices and contact centres;

  • Other people’s homes;

  • Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery;

  • Shops and branches; and

  • Vehicles.

Many businesses will need to refer to more than one guide. Although each guide details specific requirements for each area, there are a number of common features in the measures detailed.

Businesses should begin by carrying out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment to consider the steps needed to protect workers, consulting their workers as part of the process. This will usually be a written assessment, except where the business has less than 5 workers or the person is self-employed. All employers are expected to share the risk assessment with their workers, and employers with over 50 workers are expected to publish their COVID-19 risk assessment on their website. Employers are also encouraged to display a downloadable notice to demonstrate compliance with the government guidance.

Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest level reasonably practicable by taking preventative measures. The guidance considers that employers should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning; treat working from home as a first option; ensure social distancing where home-working is not possible (distancing of 2 metres where possible); and, where social distancing cannot be followed for a particular activity, consider if the activity needs to continue for the business to operate – if it does, businesses are expected, to keep the duration as short as possible, use screens/barriers to separate people, adopt back-to-back or side-to-side working and reduce the number of people each worker has contact with using ‘fixed teams’ or partnering.

Maintaining social distancing in the workplace also includes adopting measures to address when workers arrive and leave work, move around buildings/worksites, take lifts, use workstations, attend meetings (where in-person meetings cannot be avoided) and use common areas. The government’s guidance details how this may be achieved, including managing visitors to avoid too many people in the workplace at one time.

Protecting workers from risks to their health and safety also means considering measures such as minimising work-related travel and splitting workers into teams.

The government has understandably placed importance on employers cleaning workplaces prior to workers returning and then on a continuing basis. Specific guidance addresses cleaning after a suspected or known case of COVID-19. The government has said that hand sanitiser needs to be provided in multiple locations in addition to washrooms and recommended posters and signage be displayed to build awareness of handwashing techniques and good hygiene.

It may be useful for employers to note that the government now believes that additional PPE, beyond any normally worn to safely perform the duties, is not beneficial unless in a clinical setting. There is recognition that, in some circumstances, wearing a facemask may be marginally beneficial as a precaution, with guidance provided.

Employers need to update their workers on a regular basis about all COVID-19 safety-related measures implemented. In summary, all parties need to continue to work together so that the risk of COVID-19 is minimised.

As this post shows, businesses have many issues to consider and we have not provided an exhaustive list of the requirements, only a summary of some key features in the new guidance – this post is not a substitute for reviewing the full guidance issued.

For further information, please contact Anthony Wilcox, Partner in Employment Law & HR Advice at: anthony.wilcox@twmsolicitors.com

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