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How should employers protect the workplace against Coronavirus (COVID-19) health and safety risks?

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. If they’re not sure whether their workplace and systems of work adequately keep people safe from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) risks, things they can consider doing to assess and manage risks include:

  • deep cleaning the premises 

  • performing a general health and safety risk assessment and/or a Return to work risk assessment to determine what potential risks there are in the physical workplace

  • assessing whether any adjustments need to be made, for example: 

    • improving ventilation

    • providing guidance on maintaining personal hygiene

    • implementing flexible workforce arrangements

    • introducing measures to accommodate employees and visitors with protected characteristics

  • updating their Health and safety policy to include Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related safety measures

  • having provisions for employees who have Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms (or who have a member of the household who has Coronavirus (COVID-19)) 

  • communicating and training all workers and contractors on how the business is updating existing safety measures

Who can return to work?

If an employer is calling employees back to the workplace or calling them in more frequently, they should address any Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related health and safety concerns that are relevant to their workplace. For example, consider who is needed on-site and make a plan for how they can work safely and effectively. You may wish to limit the employees you ask to return to work, for instance by first asking  those with roles that are critical for business and operational continuity and those whose work can’t be done remotely. Care should be taken to ensure that the criteria for recall aren’t discriminatory and that asking certain individuals to return to work won’t unjustly negatively impact a particular group. 

Be aware that some workers may be clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable. Extra care should be taken to ensure the safety of such vulnerable workers. This may involve allowing them to work from home as much as possible in their current role or in an alternative role. If this isn’t viable, you should offer them the safest available roles on site. Where this isn’t suitable, you should assess whether their role is necessary for the business and whether you can safeguard their wellbeing by making reasonable adjustments

You may consider suggesting that employees stay home and avoid other people if they have Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Should employers carry out a new employee risk assessment?

If an employer decides it’s necessary to assess the potential risks posed to staff members by Coronavirus (COVID-19), they should consider carrying out a new Risk assessment

When considering the risk of infection, you must take into account which employees may be more vulnerable to contracting the virus (eg those who are pregnant, elderly, or who have underlying health conditions). Consider whether social distancing can be followed in the workplace. When conducting a risk assessment you should consult your employees.

You should share the results of your risk assessment with your employees. If you have 5 or more employees, you need to write down the results of your risk assessments.

Lastly, you should also be mindful that if an employee reasonably believes that coming to work would pose an imminent threat to their health and safety, they aren’t obliged to return to work. This may be the case for some clinically extremely vulnerable people, for example. However, this is likely to be rare at this stage of the pandemic. 

How can employers mitigate the risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission in the workplace?

When identifying ways to minimise health and safety risks in the workplace, employers have a duty to work closely with their employees.  

To reduce the risk of transmission, you may consider implementing the following measures if they’re appropriate for your workplace:

  • increasing the frequency of office cleaning including cleaning surfaces, work stations, door handles, keyboards, and telephones

  • reminding employees of the importance of handwashing and asking employees to increase the frequency of washing their hands

  • providing hand sanitiser at entry/exit points

  • recommending that employees wear face coverings

  • implementing staggered work times to prevent overcrowding when entering and exiting the workplace

  • implementing staggered work breaks to ensure communal areas are not overcrowded

  • using screens to separate staff from each other

  • changing seating arrangements so that employees are sitting back-to-back or side-to-side rather than face-to-face

  • grouping workers into fixed teams to reduce the number of people each individual has contact with

  • encouraging employees to bring their own food and cutlery and to use their own drinking containers

  • avoiding hot-desking or, if not possible, cleaning desks frequently between different users

  • offering frequent Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing (eg lateral flow testing) if it is considered necessary and proportionate and features in your risk assessments

  • suggesting that staff get vaccinated (where possible). For more information, read Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations in the workplace

Employees are not legally required to wear face coverings in offices. However, if employees choose to wear face coverings, you should provide them with information on the best practices to maximise their functionality (eg washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before putting coverings on and after removing them). 

The measures listed above are not exhaustive and you should decide what measures are reasonable for your workplace. You should assess and manage each risk on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, read the Government’s guidance on working safely with Coronavirus (COVID-19).

What about Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations?

Employers may consider encouraging staff to be vaccinated. There is no law requiring individuals to have the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and, even if an employer decides to encourage staff to have it, care must be taken not to discriminate (eg some individuals may be advised not to have the vaccine). Employers may wish to adopt an Employee vaccination policy setting out their approach. For more information, read Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations in the workplace.

Employers must also take care to comply with data protection requirements when recording the vaccination status of staff. For more information, read How to record the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination status of staff.

My business involves meeting customers or using contractors, what should I do?

You may wish to minimise the number of visits that customers and others make to your workplace, for example by suggesting the use of remote working tools. Visitor arrangements should be reviewed to ensure any appropriate Coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measures are upheld (eg hygiene standards). It’s important to provide your employees with the necessary training on how to host visitors and explain their responsibilities. 

Where visits are necessary on-site, you should clearly explain your business’ safety measures to visitors on or before their arrival. Measures can be implemented to limit the number of visitors on-site at one time and to limit their interaction with others. For example, you could allocate specific time slots to visitors and restrict the areas they can access.

If a visit is for carrying out essential services, you may consider if it can be scheduled at a time when there would be minimal interaction and overlap between the contractor and employees.

What else is needed to ensure the health of my employees?

Employers should give employees training in any new or updated Coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation measures. You should ensure that all of your employees are aware of all Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related safety procedures and any updates or changes that have been made to your health and safety policies and risk assessments.

You’re also responsible for looking after your employees’ mental health, which can be negatively impacted by the impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on society and individuals. For more information, read the NHS’ guidance on looking after mental health.

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