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Back to Work: Guidance on Working Safely During the Pandemic

27/07/2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures gradually start to ease, the government is keen to see businesses returning to work wherever possible. However, it is critical that employers, employees and the self-employed take steps to keep everyone safe.

As the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures gradually start to ease, the government is keen to see businesses returning to work wherever possible. However, it is critical that employers, employees and the self-employed take steps to keep everyone safe.

The government has made it clear that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace and the health and safety of workers and visitors, and public health, should not be put at risk. To support employers, a number of resources have been developed covering various elements of workplace safety aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

As you prepare for the return to work, it is important to absorb as much official advice and information as possible so that you are clear on your responsibilities and best practice.

Here we have brought together what we believe to be the key resources you need to consult as you ready yourself for re-opening.

Always bear in mind that as the pandemic situation evolves, so guidance will change. It is therefore important to keep on top of the latest advice. You can check for updates at www.gov.uk/workingsafely.
 

COVID-19 Risk Assessment

A COVID-19 Risk Assessment must be carried out regardless of the industry sector in which you operate or the type or size of workplace you run. This Risk Assessment must be done in consultation with unions or workers, and must cover agency workers, contractors and other people where relevant, as well as your employees. It must pay particular regard to anyone in your workplace who is especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Failure to complete a Risk Assessment specifically covering the risks associated with COVID-19, or completing a Risk Assessment but failing to act on it by putting in place sufficient measures such as social distancing to manage the risk of COVID-19, could constitute a breach of health and safety law. Such a breach could result in an enforcement notice. Non-compliance with an enforcement notice could lead to significant fines and possible imprisonment.

All businesses must demonstrate to their workforce and customers that they have properly assessed their risk and taken appropriate measures to reduce it. You are required to share the results of your Risk Assessment with your staff. If possible, you should consider publishing the results on your website (any employers with more than 50 staff are expected to do so). Alternatively, you can display a notification in a prominent place in your workplace.

The Institution of Occupational Health (IOSH) has recommended that businesses consult with their appointed health and safety advisor. They will have the knowledge to assure the highest levels of workplace safety, well-being and health. The advisor will also take responsibility for your COVID-19 Risk Assessment.

Guidance for offices, contact centres and other indoor workplaces

For those running or working specifically in offices, contact centres, operations rooms and similar workspaces, a helpful guidance document has been prepared by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with input from a range of bodies including unions and industry associations.

This document is designed to help employers, employees and the self-employed in the UK understand how to work safely during the pandemic, and forms part of a set designed to help people work safely in different types of workplace. Issues covered include the Risk Assessment; who should go to work; social distancing; managing customers, visitors and contractors; workplace cleaning; PPE and face coverings; workforce management and inbound and outbound goods.

You can access the guidance online here.

 

Warehouses, factories and plants

There is also a guidance document specifically aimed at those working in or running factories, plants and warehouses.

Again, this document is designed to help UK employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during COVID-19. It covers the same issues as the offices and contact centres document, but obviously with specific reference to warehouses and factories. It is regularly updated so it's important to keep up to date with all the revisions.

You can access the guidance online here

Other industries

Further detailed guidance is also available on GOV.UK for the following specific work settings:
  • Close contact services such as hairdressing, beauty and dress fitting
  • Construction and other outdoor work
  • Heritage locations
  • Hotels and other guest accommodation
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Other people's homes
  • Performing arts
  • Grassroots sport and gym/leisure facilities
  • Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
  • Shops and branches
  • Vehicles
  • Indoor and outdoor attractions and events

General COVID-19 workplace safety guidance

The action you take to ensure a safe workplace will be based on your COVID-19 Risk Assessment and will be specific to the size and type of your business and how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated.

You will be required to monitor the measures you put in place to ensure they continue to protect visitors and workers.

Whilst taking care of your responsibilities around COVID-19 workplace safety, it is important not to overlook your regular legal obligations concerning health and safety, employment or equalities, including those relating to individuals with protected characteristics.

Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures. Employers must work with any other employers or contractors sharing the workplace so that everybody's health and safety is protected.

In the context of COVID-19, this means protecting the health and safety of your workers and visitors by working through these steps in order:
  • Ensuring both workers and visitors who feel unwell stay at home and do not attend the premise.
  • In every workplace, increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  • Making every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option.
  • Where working from home is not possible, making every reasonable effort to comply with the current social distancing guidelines set out by the government.
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, considering whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, taking all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.


Further mitigating actions include: 

  • Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.
  • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering' (so each person works with only a few others).
  • Where people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, assess whether the activity can safely go ahead.

 
Always remember that no one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.

Further resources and assistance

IOSH has developed a seven-step workplace hygiene guide incorporating a caution/care checklist aimed at helping employers and staff stay safe at work.

The HSE has also published a short guide, Working Safely During the Coronavirus Outbreak, outlining simple steps to take to help manage the risk whilst carrying on running your business.

If you are in need of expert guidance when it comes to preparing your obligatory COVID-19 Risk Assessment, you are welcome to contact PMR Solutions for tailored assistance that is specific to your workplace.


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