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A Guide to Keeping Workplaces Safe as the Roadmap out of Lockdown Gets Underway

24/04/2021

On 22 February 2021, the government announced a four-step roadmap out of lockdown, gradually easing restrictions and setting out a route back to a more normal way of living and working over four steps. Here we share the latest guidance on workplace safety during the pandemic during the easing of restrictions. 

On 22 February 2021, the government announced a four-step roadmap out of lockdown, gradually easing restrictions and setting out a route back to a more normal way of living and working over four steps.

Here we share the latest guidance on workplace safety during the pandemic during the easing of restrictions. The guidance includes information from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), together with advice from public health bodies and other government departments. We recommend it is read in conjunction with the government's COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021.

The important thing to bear in mind at this time, as reiterated on many occasions by the government and public health bodies, is that whilst restrictions are being lifted, it is crucial to stay vigilant. In a workplace setting, this means continuing to stick to the rules that have been put in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission and keep everyone safe.

The rules around social distancingface coveringsfrequent cleaningadequate ventilation and good hand hygiene have not changed, neither has the requirement to carry out a COVID-19 Risk Assessment and to follow up by taking steps in response to ensure the workplace is COVID-Secure.

Ensuring a safe return to the workplace

It is imperative that businesses continue to follow the GOV.UK working safely guidance and ensure appropriate measures are in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The government's roadmap has set out indicative, ‘no earlier than' dates for each of the four steps out of lockdown, which are five weeks apart. This is because it takes around four weeks for the data to reflect the impact of the previous step, and the government has pledged to provide a further weeks' notice ahead of making changes.

Offices and contact centres are permitted to open under all steps, providing they are COVID-Secure. The official advice, however, is that office workers should continue to work from home where they can.

Alternative guidance applies to other types of business.

If you are bringing workers back into the office after a period of working from home, you may find it useful to read the HSE guidance on talking to employees about returning to work after a lockdown. The guidance includes helpful examples of questions you can ask to help employees understand the risks, together with advice on discussing workplace changes.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has also put together some useful guidance on talking to workers about returning to the workplace.

Expectant mothers returning to the workplace

You may find that expectant mothers have specific concerns over returning to the workplace. Pregnant women are considered to be clinically vulnerable, but not extremely clinically vulnerable, to COVID-19. They will therefore quite rightly be cautious about coming back to work.

Government guidance still states that employees should work from home where possible. But for those who are pregnant and cannot work from home, the advice is to go to work, but be especially careful about following social distancing rules, and minimise contact with others. This is something that employers will therefore need to support.

For pregnant employees who are less than 28 weeks with no underlying health condition, the advice is that they can return to work providing the workplace is COVID-Secure and the employer has carried out a workplace risk assessment, and then removed or managed any risks. If such risks cannot be addressed, then suitable alternative work, including working from home, should be offered.

For pregnant employees over 28 weeks, or those at any stage of their pregnancy who have an underlying health condition, the official advice is for the employer to ensure they are able to adhere to national guidance and social distancing. This may call for working flexibly at home, or in an alternative capacity. Where adjustments or alternative suitable work are not possible, employees in these circumstances should be suspended on full pay.

A very useful resource, complete with frequently asked questions covering a wide range of scenarios concerning pregnant women returning to the workplace during the pandemic, can be located here on the Working Families website.

Reducing workplace transmission of coronavirus

The government has introduced a number of public health measures to help reduce transmission of coronavirus. These include:

Workplace testing

Whilst there is no law that says employees must undergo coronavirus testing, some employers may wish to bring testing in as part of the workplace health and safety policy.

It is important to talk to employees about how the testing will work, and the process that will follow should anyone test positive. Acas provides useful advice on testing staff for coronavirus in this respect.

The government is working closely with organisations across a range of industries that are critical to the running of our country and, where employees cannot work from home during lockdown, encouraging them to sign up to rapid testing programmes that identify cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in employees who are not showing symptoms.

Testing is key to halting transmission of the virus. Testing kits are being distributed across the public and private sectors, and an online portal has been launched to make it even easier for business in the private sector to get involved and find out more about offering rapid testing in the workplace.

It is important for businesses to ensure that workplace testing is undertaken safely, with control measures in place to manage the risk of COVID transmission during the testing process.

NHS Test and Trace

The NHS Test and Trace service in the workplace provides helpful advice about how the service provides free testing for anyone presenting symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus; contacts anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close contacts they have had, and then alerts those contacts, where necessary, instructing them to self-isolate.

Vaccinations

The COVID-19 vaccine programme is well underway, with the order in which people will be offered the vaccine based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Employers should be supportive of employees in getting the coronavirus vaccine once it's offered to them. There is no law that says employees must have the vaccine, even if an employer would prefer it to be that way. It is also important to realise that there may be some people who are advised not to have the vaccine, perhaps for health reasons.

It is also essential to be aware that there still remains a chance that someone may still be infected or spread coronavirus even if they've had a vaccine. For this reason, even following vaccination, everyone must still follow working safely guidelines.

Employers may find it useful to talk with their employees about the vaccine and share the benefits of being vaccinated. Acas has published useful advice on getting the coronavirus vaccine for work in this respect.

Expert guidance on all aspects of workplace health and safety

We hope you have found this information useful. Please be sure to regularly check the official resources around COVID-19 workplace safety guidance to keep fully up to date.

For advice on all aspects of workplace health and safety, including carrying out your mandatory COVID-19 Risk Assessment, you are welcome to get in touch with PMR Solutions. Our advice is fully bespoke to individual requirements and backed by extensive industry knowledge and long term experience.


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