As an employer you have a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of your staff, customers/clients and visitors. Opening for business means being COVID-19 Secure. Government Guidance is clear that:
- All businesses should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option;
- Only if that is not possible should employees be required to go to work and only where every reasonable effort is made to manage transmission risk by reinforcing hygiene and cleaning measures and complying with social distancing rules – keeping 2m from others wherever possible;
- If social distancing cannot be followed in full, then those operations or activities should only be continued if they are necessary for the business to operate.
If working from home is not possible, and your business is not within a sector that has been ordered to close, you will need to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with Trades Union representatives, staff representatives and/or your staff and you will need to set up and implement systems and measures to combat the identified risks.
The Government has set out three key areas for your consideration and action:
- Risks from Infected People and to Vulnerable People.
- Control of Aerosol.
- Infection and Control of Contact Infection.
The Health and Safety Executive provides a guide on how to carry out a risk assessment, together with associated template documents here.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy issued “5 Steps to Working Safely” here.
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
- Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
- Help people to work from home
- Maintain 2m social distancing, where possible
- Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk.
The 8 sector-specific Government Guidelines repeat many of the same steps and are of general application to a much wider cross-section of businesses here.
The final assessment as to whether a safe system of work has been set up and implemented is fact-specific, depending on the risks in any particular workplace setting.
The following are factors that you may wish to consider as part of your own risk assessment:
Risks from Infected People and to Vulnerable People
The employer must repeat, and repetitively, instruct employees and visitors with the following instruction (notices can be a good way to do this as well):
- If you or a member of your household suffers from a new continuous cough or a high temperature, then:
- If you have the symptoms you need to stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started;
- If a member of your household has the symptoms you need to stay at home for 14 days from when that member of your household has the symptoms;
- If during that period of 14 days you get the symptoms you need to stay at home for 7 days from when you first started having the symptoms even if that takes you past the 14 day period.
- The employer might set up an email system or other electronic system to ensure that employees consider, each day before attending, whether they have symptoms and whether they should attend work.
- Maintain a review of infection in your locality and your staff. If it is peaking/rising, then seek medical advice and consider a temporary closure or further measures.
- Clinically extremely vulnerable people are strongly advised not to work outside the home:
- Can the employer reallocate tasks/provide equipment to that person to perform in the home?
- Clinically vulnerable people are at higher risk of severe illness and are advised to stay at home and, if they do go out, to minimise contact with those outside their household:
- Can the employer reallocate tasks/provide equipment to that person to perform in the home?
- If not, then they should be offered the safest available workplace roles observing social distancing;
- If social distancing cannot be maintained, then consider whether working presents an unacceptable level of risk.
- Consider the impact of disability on health and safety:
- Do any measures need to be set up and implemented to assist disabled people as a reasonable adjustment?
- Ensure that decisions do not unjustifiably impact groups of people such as new or expectant mothers, being mindful of their right to individual risk assessments, alternative duties and, possibly, maternity suspension on full pay.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people are defined in Government Guidance here.
Clinically vulnerable people are defined in Government Guidance here.
Control of Aerosol Risk
Social distancing (Public Health England, Scotland & Wales) rules are different for the four nations of the UK. In England the following matters are currently advised. Firstly, businesses should, where possible, maintain 2m distancing – that is, in every part of the workplace including corridors etc. If they cannot and the activity needs to continue, businesses need to assess whether the activity is necessary. Even if it is necessary, businesses need to establish whether they can make it reasonably safe.
Whether or not 2m distancing can be achieved, the following mitigation measures should be considered. If social distancing cannot be maintained, then the need for these measures is likely to be particularly high:
- Workplace Density
- Can certain staff (eg admin etc) work from home –
- If they can, then maintain contact to supervise safety/mental health;
- Provide appropriate equipment eg computers/remote access systems;
- Only have the minimum number of staff at the workplace at any one time;
- Is 7 day working or staggered working hours possible?
- Reducing visitors and making deliveries contactless.
- Coming and leaving work
- increase entry / exit points;
- additional parking areas and bicycle racks;
- leaving seats empty in company minibuses to reduce density;
- entry control;
- one-way flow at entry and exit points – floor markings;
- alternatives to keypads, such as non-touch opening;
- deactivating turnstiles and using distant presentation of security pass;
- wedging open non-fire doors (to prevent use of door handles etc);
- working with others in the local vicinity (including local authorities) to control the number of people arriving;
- managing outside queues so they do not pose a risk to others.
- Moving around
- Restricting access to different parts of the workplace/using telephones;
- Setting up working zones and restricting workers to one part of the workplace;
- Reducing job rotation to one task per day etc;
- One-way systems on walkways;
- Use signage or other objects to maintain 2m travel;
- Reduce occupancy of mini-buses (every other seat);
- Regulating use of traffic routes;
- Can the journey in the workplace be made outside rather than inside?
- Reducing use of lifts and density, including priority for those with mobility issues;
- In shared buildings etc cooperating with landlords/other users to maintain precautions are systematic throughout the building;
- Regulating use of locker rooms/toilets but encouraging storage of belongings;
- Assigned workstations, rather than hot-desking;
- Placing workstations at least 2m apart;
- Set up and install screens and barriers;
- Ensure good ventilation in the workplace whether a vehicle or not;
- Cohorting/fixed teams/partnering/shifts;
- Maintaining a stable group of employees in separate areas/teams/shifts/ locations within a building;Even if the cohort cannot be socially distant from one another inside the cohort, they should maintain distance from others outside the cohort;
- Keeping the activity duration as short as possible;
- Consider face-coverings;
- Closing spaces where people congregate;
- Reduce socialising;
- Avoiding face-to-face contact for a sustained period/longer than 15 minutes and assessing whether this activity really needs to go ahead;
- No contact working;
- Side-by-side or back-to-back working rather than face to face;
- Protective screens for client facing/reception staff;
- Only have necessary attendees;
- Do not share/pass equipment (eg, pens, keyboards) if possible;
- Hold meetings outside or in well-ventilated rooms;
- Use remote working tools.
- Common areas
- Staggering break times;
- Using outdoor areas for breaks;
- Use additional space freed up by remote working;
- Reconfiguring seating to reduce face-to-face interactions
- Making sure toilet lids are down when they are flushed;
- Setting up systems for those with hay-fever;
- Encouraging workers to bring in their own food or using packaged meals;
- Encouraging staff to stay on-site during working hours;
- Marking of areas where queues form / toilets;
- Explain rules on arrival;
- Encourage remote contact;
- Limit the number;
- Maintain a record if practicable;
- Train and establish “COVID-19” hosts responsible for communicating precautions and steps to any visitor;
- Face coverings
- Remember the evidence that the protection from face coverings is weak and it is not an alternative to the other risk mitigation strategies;
- Wash hands before applying and after removing;
- Change when it becomes damp.
- Minimise the need for it;
- Reducing density in vehicles;
- Ensuring that social distancing is possible at any overnight accommodation;
- Making them contactless where possible;
- If a two-person job, then using fixed paired working;
- Ordering / delivering large quantities, less frequently;
- Encouraging drivers to stay in their vehicles;
- Cleaning external packaging and or unpacking and washing of hands;
- Stopping personal deliveries to the workplace;
- To be scheduled during non-working times or when the workplace is emptier;
- Wipe down laminated menus between use;
- Restrict numbers in kitchens
- Screens for tills etc;
- Non-contact passing over of food;
- Customer-facing businesses
- Limiting customers in store;
- Encourage lone shopping;
- Reminding parents to supervise movement of children;
- Queue management, preferably outside
- One-way movement in premises;
- Changing customer services that can’t be delivered without social distancing;
- Fitting rooms should be closed whenever possible;
- Storing items that have been returned, donated, brought in for repair or extensively handled in a container or separate room for 72 hours and/or cleaning such items before displaying them on the shop floor.
- Considering placing protective coverings on large items that may require customer testing or use, such as furniture; and ensuring frequent cleaning of these coverings between uses.
- Cleaning “touchpoints” (eg, interior and exterior touchpoints in rental vehicles and/or test drive vehicles)
- Using technology;
- Whiteboards / posters;
- Before opening
- Cleaning the workplace
- Checking ventilation and take advice re air conditioning systems to ensure adequate ventilation;
- Creating social distancing champions amongst the workforce to disseminate good practice;
Control of Contact Risks
- Instructing and then ensuring that all employees wash their hands as often as possible for 20 seconds, including at least washing hands:
- on arriving and leaving the workplace – provide hand-washing or, if not possible, hand sanitiser;
- at the beginning and end of a break;
- before and after eating or drinking;
- if an employee coughs or sneezes or blow their nose;
- before entering enclosed spaces such as vehicles;
- when changing work-stations or handling equipment that others have handled if reasonably practicable.
- There must be adequate provision of sinks and soap
- consider pop-up wash stations
- only where hand-washing is not possible then provide hand sanitiser and also individual hand sanitisers and ensure that it is used;
- Enhanced cleaning of the workplace with disinfectant/chlorine-based solutions
- Particularly for busy areas;
- Consideration to be given to allocating work stations to a single employee or to a fixed cohort if that is not possible so as to avoid hot-desking / shared work-stations;
- Workstations should be regularly wiped down and cleaned;
- Consideration should be given to ceasing production at designated times to ensure that workstations and other areas are cleaned;
- Tools / keyboards / keypads / equipment / handles / copiers etc should be wiped down regularly
- Avoid sharing tools / keyboards or restrict their use to a fixed cohort if not possible;
- Shared tools / keyboards should be wiped down whenever a person has finished using them;
- Consider ways to clean expensive equipment that cannot be washed down;
- Restrict use of photocopiers;
- Using signs/posters/instruction to remind staff to wash hands and to do so regularly including
- Avoiding touching the face, particularly eyes, nose and mouth;
- Coughing / sneezing into a disposable tissue or crook of the arm if not possible;
- Enhanced cleaning;
- Special care for portable toilets;
- Handtowels if possible as an alternative to hand dryers;
- Clear rules for showers / changing rooms where required;
- Cleaning vehicles regularly including those vehicles taken home;
- If an employee tests positive for Covid-19 then their workplace should be cleaned in accordance with the following:
- Public areas can be cleaned as normal where an infected person has passed through
- Use detergent 1,000 parts per million chlorine or household detergent;
- Wear, as a minimum, disposable gloves and an apron (equipment should be stored in rubbish bags for 72 hours and then disposed of)
- If the area being cleaned is a bedroom or there are bodily fluids, then a higher level of protection is necessary;
- Surfaces which an infected person has come into contact with should be cleaned with disposable cloths/paper roll /mopheads and detergent – do not splash or spray.
This document does not endorse any of these steps or necessarily suggest that implementing them will guarantee a safe system of work. It is without doubt that the three strands – of management of infected people and vulnerable people; respiratory transmission control; and hygiene control – reduce the transmission of COVID-19. But there is no mathematical equation for safety. Health and safety advice counter-intuitively always acknowledges and accepts risk. Implementing the three strands above is likely to discharge the duties on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their staff.
This Guide does not constitute legal advice and liability for reliance on the views and opinions expressed is excluded. Specific advice on your own particular circumstances should always be sought.
If you require specific legal advice please contact David Gibson at Burnetts on 01228 552222 or firstname.lastname@example.org and she will put you in touch with the Employment team who will be happy to assist you.