Following a nationwide lockdown designed to curb the spread of coronavirus, the government announced on 10 May 2020 that the country would begin reopening on a phased basis. At the time of writing, we are currently in phase three, meaning that the majority of businesses are now looking at how to get their workplaces in order, so as to be able to return to work.
Before you can welcome employees back on-site, you are legally required, as an employer, to fully assess the risk to employees and customers of returning to the workplace, and then put steps in place to ensure that this is safely managed.
The government has published fourteen guides on working safely during coronavirus that focus on a variety of different workplace environments. These are worth looking at before doing anything else, as different workplaces will require different safety guidelines.
What Is A COVID Secure Workplace?
The health and safety obligations of employers in relation to COVID-19 are the same as they have always been, coming under a range of workplace legislation including:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974;
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999;
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992;
- The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992; and
- The Control of Substance Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
With COVID-19 still an issue, employers are required to take more targeted and severe steps to ensure the health and safety of employees, customers, and site visitors.
Steps To A COVID-Secure Workplace
- Employers must carry out a full COVID-19 risk assessment, in line with current HSE Guidance, and then share the results of this assessment both internally and on their website.
- Employers should create new, in-depth, cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures, create visible guidance for employees to follow, and support employees in increased cleaning and hygiene routines. This would include having more handwashing stations, hand sanitisers available at entry and exit points and regular cleaning of high-contact areas such as door handles.
- Employers should support employees to work from home, including providing them with the equipment and software required for remote working, and providing them with physical and mental wellbeing support. At the time of writing the government is now encouraging people to go back to work, however it remains the case that continued support is necessary for those who must continue to work from home.
- Employers should ensure that workplaces are set up for social distancing, redesigning areas where necessary, creating one-way traffic systems and so on.
- Where it is not possible to have social distancing, employers need to manage transmission risk with the use of screens, having employees sit side-by-side instead of face-on, use of masks, or changing hours and appointments so that there are less people working at once.
How To Do A COVID-19 Risk Assessment
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual and unprecedented situation, the risk assessments you need to conduct are basically the same as any other health and safety risk assessment.
During a COVID risk assessment you will:
- Identify any situations that put people at risk of transmission
- Identify the employees that are at risk, and the likelihood of exposure
- Control the risk or remove the activity altogether
One of the first steps every employer should take, in line with the government’s own guidance, is facilitating employees working from home, where possible.
Questions To Ask
- Who can work from home?
- Who needs to be in the workplace, and what is the minimum number of staff members required on site to run the workplace?
- How do employees get to work? How can I reduce the risk to staff on their commute?
- What jobs and tasks could be adapted to lessen the risk of transmission?
- What, if any, PPE should I be providing?
- How can I communicate new hygiene procedures, and ensure that they are followed?
- How can we ensure that cleaning routines are completed regularly?
- How secure is the building? How can I redesign toilets, stairways, hallways and lifts for safety?
Sharing The Results Of Your COVID Risk Assessment
After your risk assessment is complete, it is necessary for employers to share the results with their entire workforce. It is a legal requirement for any business with more than 50 employees to publish the results of their risk assessment on their website, but all businesses are encouraged to do so.
Publishing your results not only makes your employees feel more secure, but also helps customers and other companies to feel good about the business and how you take care of your staff.
To communicate your findings directly to staff, send emails or have meetings and site inductions for all those returning to work. Make sure that they know where they can go to refer to the new health and safety guidelines and be proactive in following up with any staff that have not yet been in touch regarding their understanding of the guidelines.
What If Staff Members Don’t Want To Come Back?
Many employers have found that staff members are unhappy at the prospect of returning to work whilst coronavirus is still active. In this case, employees may cite Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which states that if an employee has a reasonable belief of ‘serious or imminent danger’ to their health, they can refuse to work.
As an employer, it is your duty to provide a safe and secure work environment for employees. Coronavirus classifies as a danger to health, and is thus a good enough reason for staff to refuse to return, if you have not put enough procedures in place to keep them safe.
To make sure that you have done enough, and to reiterate to employees that you are focused on their health and safety, and dedicated to providing a secure working environment, you must perform your coronavirus-specific risk assessment first. After this you should communicate the findings and steps you have taken to secure the workplace, before asking employees to return.
We Can Help
An Accounting Gem is on hand to provide your businesses with the help and advice it needs to facilitate a return to the workplace. We can help you to apply for any grants and funding you may be entitled to, as well as working out what is necessary to secure the working environment, including steps like switching to flexible furloughing.
To find out more, get in touch on 01473 744 700 or email us at email@example.com