Thinking about risk
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety. This means employers need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, following the latest government guidance.
- If you have not done so already, all employers should carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
- If you have fewer than five workers, or are self-employed, you don’t need to write anything down as part of your risk assessment
- There are interactive tools available to support you from the Health and Safety Executive
Employers also have a duty to consult employees on health and safety. You must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers. An employer cannot decide who that representative will be.
The Health and Safety Executive or a local authority can take action to force an employer to improve control of workplace risks.
Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures. In the context of coronavirus, this means working through these steps in order:
- Increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning in the workplace
- Make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where this is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with social distancing guidelines
- If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then an employer must assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. Employees are not obliged to work in an unsafe environment.
- Whilst the government continues to recommend maintaining a two-metre distance wherever possible, updated guidance allows for businesses to operate, where two metres is not commercially viable, on a “one metre plus” rule. This allows employees and customers to social distance at a length of one metre, provided other mitigating factors are employed. These include:
- Using screens or barriers to separate people
- Using back-to back- or side-to-side working wherever possible
- Wearing face coverings
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with via using rotations or fixed teams
During an assessment, an employer should consider whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to coronavirus, or live with anyone classed as clinically vulnerable
Additional guidance has been published for those working in homes and can be viewed here.
Employers who have not already done so should carry out a risk assessment as soon as possible. Employers who have already conducted a risk assessment should use the government guidance to identify any further improvements that can be made.
The government has said that results of a risk assessment should be shared with the workforce, and, where a business has over 50 workers, the government expects the results to be published on the company website.
Here is a link to a notice which can be displayed in a workplace to show that a risk assessment has been conducted.
Who should go to work?
Government guidance remains that those who can work from home should continue to do so. However, with the wider opening of retail and hospitality venues, there will be an increase of staff required at their place of work, and as such, detailed risk assessments should be produced or updated. Managers should also consider who is needed to be on-site, for example:
- Workers in roles critical for business and operational continuity, customer facing, facility management and safety or regulatory requirements which cannot be performed remotely
- Workers in critical roles which might be performed remotely but who are unable to do so due to home circumstances or the unavailability of specialist equipment.
Following government guidance on 24 June, businesses including pubs, restaurants and certain leisure venues can reopen, as long as social distancing and further protective measures are followed. However, a number of retail and leisure venues must remain closed. The government has published full guidance on the opening status and requirements for a range of businesses. More information can be found here.
It is recognised that for providers of in-home services or people who work in or from vehicles, for example, couriers, mobile workers, and lorry drivers, will find it very difficult to work remotely or from home. Additional guidance for providers of in-home services can be found here and for people working from vehicles here.
Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals have been strongly advised not to work outside the home. Clinically vulnerable individuals, who are at higher risk of severe illness, have been asked to take extra care in observing social distancing and should be helped to work from home, either in their current role or an alternative role. From 1 August, the government has advised that shielding measures will be paused in England, meaning those previously treated as needing to ‘shield’ will be treated in line with clinically vulnerable people.
From 1 August, the relaxation of the shielding guidance means people who were previously shielding will be advised they can go to work as long as they are able to maintain social distancing as much as possible and their workplace is COVID-19 secure.
- If clinically vulnerable (and extremely clinically vulnerable, from 1 August) employees cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site role, enabling them to stay two metres away from colleagues and customers
- Particular attention should also be paid to people who live with clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.
Individuals who are self-isolating, either because they have coronavirus symptoms or live in a household with someone who has symptoms, should not come into work.
Employers must take into account specific duties to those with protected characteristics such as expectant mothers who are entitled to suspension on full pay if suitable roles cannot be found. It is breaking the law to discriminate, directly or indirectly, against anyone because of a protected characteristic such as age, sex or disability. Employers should:
- Consider whether they need to put in place any particular measures or adjustments to take account of their duties under the equalities legislation
- Make sure that the steps they take to not have an unjustifiable negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities.
- Involve and communicate with workers whose protected characteristics might expose them to a different degree of risk or might make any measures you are considering implementing inappropriate
- Make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage.
Following the government’s updated ‘one metre plus’ guidance announced on 24 June, the use of face coverings is now recommended, alongside other measures, to ensure sufficient protection where keeping a two-metre distance is not possible. This is a large change from previous guidance, which had stated face coverings were not necessary. This change was implemented to allow a wide range of hospitality and leisure venues to reopen and operate on a financially viable basis.
Current evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect the wearer, but may protect others if the wearer is infected but has not developed symptoms, and their use is therefore recommended, alongside other protective measures as outlined in our working safely guide, to ensure staff and customers are protected where the recommended two metre social distancing guidelines cannot be followed.
Government guidance now also states that anyone travelling on public transport must wear a face mask or covering, with this enforceable by law, with fines in place for those who do not comply. More information on this is available on our guide to travelling to work, available below.
There is no requirement to provide additional PPE beyond what employees would usually wear, outside of clinical settings, and employers should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 outside of existing rulings on face coverings and the standard requirements for working.
If employees do wear face coverings, either by personal choice or as required by updated guidance, employers must tell employees to wear face coverings safely by:
- washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it
- when wearing a face covering, avoid touching the face or face covering, as germs can travel from the hands
- change a face covering if it becomes damp or if you touch it
- continue to wash hands regularly
- change and wash face coverings daily
- if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in usual waste
Employers are asked to take steps to ensure that social distancing is maintained, and surface transmission avoided when goods enter and leave a site.
The Government has outlined seven steps that employers should take to help ensure goods are moved safely:
- Revising pick-up and drop-off collection points, procedures, signage and markings
- Minimising unnecessary contact, for example through non-contact deliveries
- Considering methods to reduce the frequency of deliveries
- Where possible and safe, having single workers load or unload vehicles
- Where possible, using the same pairs of people where more than one is needed
- Enabling drivers to access welfare facilities when required
- Encouraging drivers to stay in their vehicles where this does not compromise their safety
There are is some additional guidance for restaurants those working in other people’s homes. As with existing guidance, further measures including, but not limited to, increased hand washing and the use of face coverings, should be implemented where the recommended distance of two metres cannot be followed. This is also true for work undertaken in a home where someone is classed as clinically vulnerable. You should not visit or undertake work in a property where someone is self-isolating or has symptoms of coronavirus regardless of preventative measures, unless to undertake vital work to alleviate urgent risk to their health.
Travelling to and from work during coronavirus
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety. This means employers need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, including workers’ journey to and from the office. This is an important aspect to consider as part of any return to work risk assessment.
Before asking employees to return to work, it is important to consider whether they need to be in the office to carry out this work. The government guidance continues to urge those who are able to work from home to continue to do so, and to plan for the minimum number of people on any site to operate safely and effectively. Employers are therefore encouraged to limit those in the office to solely those who undertake:
- roles critical for business and operational continuity, safe facility management, or regulatory requirements and which cannot be performed remotely
- critical roles which might be performed remotely, but who are unable to work remotely due to home circumstances or the unavailability of safe enabling equipment
For employees who must travel to the place of work
For those employees who fall into the above categories, and therefore must be physically present in the office or place of work, the government has issued guidance with the overarching aim of “maintaining social distancing wherever possible, on arrival and departure, and to ensure handwashing upon arrival.” This guidance advises employers to:
- Stagger arrival and departure times to reduce crowding in and out of the workplace
- Work to reduce congestion by opening more entry and exit points in the workplace, and introducing spacing markings and one-way systems at these points
- Define process alternatives where social distancing measures may be difficult to implement. An example of this is showing a security pass to security personnel at a distance, rather than physically swiping a card
- Provide additional parking or bike racks to encourage employees to walk, run, cycle, or drive to work where possible
- Limit passengers in corporate vehicles, for example by leaving seats vacant, in order to adhere to social distancing
- Encourage employees to avoid public transport where possible. If walking, cycling or driving to the place of work is not feasible and public transport must be used, social distancing measures must be observed, together with the use of a non-medical face covering. The government has issued further guidance on the use of public transport
- Providing handwashing facilities at entry/exit points, and not using touch-based security appliances where possible.
Following government guidance published on 4 June, face coverings are now mandatory on public transport, including trains, tubes, buses and aircraft. This is to reduce the risk of transmission where social distancing is not possible. Whilst it is not the employers responsibility to supply or enforce the use of face coverings on public transport, employers should make an effort to educate and inform their staff on how to do so safely, as well as the penalties for those not complying. The government continues to advise against the use of medical grade coverings for non-medical staff to ensure these remain available for frontline staff.