Working safely during COVID-19

The government has now published its 8 guidance documents, which are designed to make workplaces as safe as possible and give people the confidence to go back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic

The published guidance applies to England only. Public health is devolved in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and businesses in those countries must follow their devolved government’s advice.

Every employer owes a duty of care to their employees, so employers will want to be confident that they have followed guidance and equally, employees will want to be confident that their health and safety is not compromised. The objective is clear, to reduce the risk to the lowest reasonably possible level, by undertaking preventative measures.

All employers with more than 5 workers will need to undertake a written risk assessment. In addition, employers with more than 50 workers must publish this risk assessment on their website.

A link to the guidance documents is here although its worth noting that more than one might need to be implemented in your business depending on the types of workplaces that you operate ie. office, transport, F&B

A downloadable notice is included in the documents, which employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed this guidance.

Looking forward the guidance is summarised, these guides all contain five practical steps which, the government says, should be “implemented as soon as it is practical”. 

1. Work from home, if you can

Employers are asked to take “all reasonable steps” to help people working from home. However, for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, the government’s advice is that they should go to work.

The position for now is that workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. Therefore for those who work for example in sales, marketing, finance etc. which are largely office based, it will continue to be the case that they continue to work from home for now.

2. Carry out a risk assessment

Employers must carry out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with its workers or trade union to establish what guidelines to put in place.

3. Maintain social distancing 

Employers are asked to re-design workspaces to maintain two metre distances between people “whenever possible” by staggering start times, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exit, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

4. Manage transmission risk if social distancing can’t be maintained

Employers should put barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams to minimise the number of people in contact with one another, or ensure colleagues are facing away from each other.

5. Reinforcing cleaning processes

Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide hand-washing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

The government guidance may well change overtime and employers are encouraged to consult the most recent and applicable guidance to them when considering working safely during COVID-19 and indeed returning to work.