Government publishes Guidance to help employers operate workplaces safely during coronavirus
by Tamara Barbeary
The Government has now published Guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic and to help employers get their businesses back up and running.
There are eight different sets of Guidance covering the following workplace settings that are currently allowed to open:
- Construction and other outdoor work
- Factories, plants and warehouses
- Labs and research facilities
- Offices and contact centres
- Other people’s homes
- Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
- Shops and branches
It also includes guidance for retail shops, which include non-food stores, fashion stores and other types of retail that are currently closed but will be looking to plan for re-opening. Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open, for example pubs and restaurants, will be developed and published ahead of them opening to give those businesses time to prepare.
Some employers who operate more than one type of workplace may need to use more than one of the guides as they consider what they need to do to keep people safe.
The Guidance sets out practical steps for businesses, which focuses on five main themes running through each as follows:
1. Work from home if at all possible
Employers should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home. Where people cannot work from home and their workplace has not been told to close, they should speak with their employer. Employers must take steps to protect people who are at higher risk and must make sure those who are advised to isolate under existing government guidelines do not physically attend the workplace.
2. All employers need to carry out a COVID-19 Risk Assessment
Employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place. Employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website if possible and the Government expects all businesses with over 50 employees to do so. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on how to manage risk HSE – Managing risks and risk assessment at work, with specific advice on how to control the risk of coronavirus in workplaces HSE – Working safely during the coronavirus outbreak, along with template risk assessment forms HSE – risk-assessment-template-and-examples
3. Maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible
Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by, for example, staggering start times, creating more entry points and exits, introducing one-way systems, or reconfiguring seating layouts for working and in communal areas.
4. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk
Where social distancing cannot be observed in relation to a particular activity, employers should consider whether that activity is necessary for the business to operate. If it is necessary, employers should look at ways to mitigate the risk. For example, by keeping the activity as short as possible, using screens and barriers, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams to minimise the number of people in contact with one another, and ensuring staff are facing away from each other.
5. Frequent and enhanced cleaning
Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, particularly objects like door handles and keyboards which are touched regularly. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers in multiple locations and more waste facilities. There is specific guidance for cleaning after a known or suspected case of COVID-19.
Employers are advised to use simple clear signage and messaging to explain the guidelines. A downloadable notice is included in the guidance documents, which employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed the guidance.
It is important for employers to note that the Guidance does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities. It is therefore important that as a business or an employer you continue to comply with your existing obligations under the law.
You can access the Guidelines here.
Tamara Barbeary is our highly regarded Employment Solicitor and is also the Head of the Employment Team in Lennons. If you require her assistance in relation to your employment matter, please contact a member of our Employment Team today on 01494 773377 or email [email protected]
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