Government releases guidance on working safely
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday on the roadmap for lifting the lockdown, the government has published guidance for employers about working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic in offices and contact centres.
The Guidance reminds employers that they have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures.
The government reinforces the message that working from home is the primary option and that employers should make every reasonable effort to facilitate that but where that is not possible, social distancing guidelines (i.e. keeping 2 metres apart) should be followed.
If social distancing is not possible the employers should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business and if it does then the business should take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission, which may include:
- 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)
The guidance also says that if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then the employer needs to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead.
"The guidance is also very clear that no one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment."
There is a mix of recommendations and expectations in the Guidance. For example, employers should carry out COVID-19 risk assessments; should share the results with the workforce and publish the results on their websites although only employers with more than 50 employees are expected to do this.
It is also notable that the government expects employers to consult with representatives of the workforce (either via a recognised trade union or a representative chosen by the workers) on health & safety measures.
It is clear that the guidance will be enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and on page 4 of the guidance, employees are given information about ways to raise concerns.
There is also a notice setting out the 5 steps that employers are expected to take which should be displayed in the workplace. Those 5 steps are:
- Carrying out a risk assessment and sharing the results with the workforce
- Having cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures in place
- Having taken all reasonable steps to enable people to work from home
- Having taken all reasonable steps to ensure social distancing is observed
- Where social distancing cannot be observed, having done everything reasonable to manage transmission risk.
In your assessment you should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
Some other suggestions in the guidance include:
- Staggering start and finish times and one way flow at entry points to avoid congestion
- Restricting access to different parts of buildings and sites
- Reviewing layouts to allow employees to work further apart
- Avoiding hot-desking
- Avoiding in-person meetings by the use of remote working tools (such as Zoom or Teams)
Click here to read the guidance. Whilst it’s over 30 pages long, it is essential reading for employers looking to get employees back into the workplace.
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All information in this update is accurate at the time of writing. It is meant for general information only and is not legal advice.