On 12 May 2020, Partner & Head of Regulatory, Kathryn Gilbertson hosted a live Q&A webinar with Mark Watson QC and Stuart Jessop from Six Pump Court, entitled “Returning to work safely – it’s not just a case of turning the lights back on”. It follows the government’s recent publication of the new “COVID-19 secure” guidelines for employers to help them resume their businesses and ensure their workplaces operate as safely as possible.
On 10 May 2020, the Prime Minister announced a roadmap of steps to tackle the virus and restart the economy, so we can protect jobs, restore people’s livelihoods and fund the country’s vital public services. This was followed by the publication of the new “COVID-19 secure” guidelines (the “guidance”).
The government has reportedly consulted approximately 250 stakeholders in preparing guidance. It has been developed with input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to develop best practice on the safe ways of working across sectors, providing people with the confidence they need to return to work.
The new guidance covers 8 workplace settings that are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways.
5 key points
The guidance sets out practical steps for businesses focused on 5 key points, which should be implemented as soon as it is practical:
- Work from home, if you can – all reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, the government’s message is you should go to work.
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions – the guidance operates within current health and safety, employment and equalities legislation. 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.
- Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible – employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people for example by: (i) staggering start times, (ii) creating one-way walk-throughs, (iii) opening more entrances and exits or (iv) changing layouts.
- Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk – employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people who come in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
- Reinforcing cleaning processes – workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitizers at entry and exit points.
A downloadable notice is also available, which employers should display in their workplaces, and on their website to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace that they have followed the guidance.
The government has also made available up to an extra £14 million for the HSE, equivalent to an increase of 10% of their budget, for extra call centre employees, inspectors and equipment if needed. Employees are encouraged to report any concerns relating to COVID-19 security to the HSE.
A further update with our detailed comments, practical advice, and Q&As from our webinar will follow in the next few days, particularly relating to COVID-19 risk assessments, managing the transmission risk, cleaning operations, and enforcement.
If you require urgent help in the meantime or have any questions relating to the guidance and how it applies to your business, please get in touch.