The HSE has issued guidance on Social distancing to make your workplace COVID-secure. This can be accessed here. The HSE site confirms that In the UK some rules about social distancing may be different in each of the devolved nations. However, HSE regulates in all of these countries. You should check the public health guidance for the country you are in and it includes links to the respective Countries’ Guidance.
From 28 September 2020, the COVID-secure guidance became a legal requirement and businesses who fail to comply are subject to fines of up to £10,000. Some of the new measures include:
- Businesses must remind people to wear face coverings where it is legally required to do so
- Any Employer who knowingly requires or encourages someone who is required to self isolate to come into work will be committing a criminal offence and potentially liable for a fine of up to £10,000.
On 11 May 2020 the government announced ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines for employers to follow to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating as safely as possible. These guidelines will continue to remain in place for the reopening of businesses in 2021.
All 14 versions of the guidance can be found here.
Information contained within all the guides is being regularly updated to reflect changes in Government advice so it is important to keep checking the guides that are relevant to your business. The Government has updated all 14 work sector guides. The updates include information on:
- Discouraging shouting - The guidance state that you ensure that steps are taken to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices to each other. This includes, but is not limited to, refraining from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting, including if played at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission, particularly from aerosol transmission
- Opening customer cafes and restaurants
- Advice affecting local lockdowns
- Keeping records of staff (including shift patterns), visitors and customers, and
- What action to take in the event of there being a COVID-19 outbreak within the workplace.
Most recently the guides have been updated to reflect the changes on:
- The rules on working from home - Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to ensure their employees can work safely
- The wearing of face coverings
- Safe disposal of face coverings and PPE
- Work related travel
- Ventilation - to mitigate the transmission risk of COVID-19
- Amended guidance on mass gatherings within the workplace.
From 5 November, legal limits have been imposed on meeting with others socially whether indoors or outdoors. These limits do not apply to workplaces, alongside other exemptions. Details of the Government Guidance can be found here. Social distancing guidelines would still apply to any workplace gatherings.
Please see WHAT IMPLICATIONS DOES THE SO CALLED “RULE OF 6” HAVE FOR MY BUSINESS? for details of the restriction limiting social gatherings to a maximum of 6 people.
Please refer to the specific sector guides applicable to your business to be aware of how recent changes may affect you.
Most recently the Government has added ‘priority actions’ which detail 7 steps that should be taken to protect yourself, your staff and your customers during coronavirus. to the start of many of the guides.
The seven ‘priority actions’:
- Complete a COVID-19 risk assessment. Share it with all your staff.
- Clean more often. Increase how often you clean surfaces, especially those that are being touched a lot. Ask your staff, customers, visitors or contractors to use hand sanitiser and wash their hands frequently.
- Ask your customers or visitors to wear face coverings where required to do so by law. That is especially important if your customers or visitors are likely to be around people they do not normally meet. Some exemptions apply. Check when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own.
- Make sure everyone is social distancing. Make it easy for everyone to do so by putting up signs or introducing a one-way system that your staff and visitors can follow.
- Increase ventilation by keeping doors and windows open where possible and running ventilation systems at all times.
- Take part in NHS Test and Trace by keeping a record of all staff, customers, visitors and contractors for 21 days. From 18 September, this will be enforced in law. Some exemptions apply. Check ‘Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace’ for details.
- Turn people with coronavirus symptoms away. If a staff member (or someone in their household) or a visitor has a persistent cough, a high temperature or has lost their sense of taste or smell, they should be isolating.
Each of the sector guides then go on to detail further actions relevant to each of those sectors that should also be taken. All of the updated sector guides can be found here.
There is also separate general food business guidance and guidance and advice for those providing hotel and other accommodation in England.
SECTOR SPECIFIC GUIDANCE
Employers are advised to look at the guidance which is specific to the nature of their business, and in some cases more than one set of guidance should be referred to where there is an overlap of the nature of the business.
COVID-19 SECURE GUIDANCE AND 5 STEPS TO WORKING SAFELY
The Government guidance for England covers 14 workplace settings which are allowed to be open or have been given a date from which they can open.
From 4 July 2020 further measures were introducedin England only, to ease the lockdown and social distancing restrictions. The Prime Minister set out that where it is not possible to stay two metres apart, guidance will allow people to keep a social distance of ‘one metre plus’. This means staying one metre apart, plus mitigations which reduce the risk of transmission. These measures will be kept under review. The announcement made by the Prime Minister only applies to England and therefore does not change anything in Wales.
The Government had previously issued Guidance entitled ‘ 5 steps to working safely’. This Guidance has now been withdrawn (from 9th September) These steps were purely a summary of practical actions and were not a substitute for following all of the steps and objectives outlined in detail in the detailed sector guides.
A downloadable notice is available for employers to display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed the guidance. The notice refers to the points outlined above and refers to them as ‘five steps to safer working together’. The notice has been updated from the earlier version to reflect the changes made to the 2m distance rule and further updated to reflect the change to the guidance on working from home. For further information see ‘How do I demonstrate to my employees that I have followed Government Guidance?’
The Welsh government have introduced a legal duty with regard to social distancing which will apply to any workplace, including homes, where work and repairs are being undertaken and outdoor spaces. The announcement made on 23 June by the Prime Minister introducing the minimum ‘one meter plus’ requirement from 4th July 2020 only applies to England and therefore does not change anything in Wales. These regulations mean that all businesses will have to take all reasonable measures to ensure the 2 metre rule is maintained between people on their premises whenever work is being carried out.
In Wales all workplaces are legally required to take reasonable steps to comply with the physical distancing duty which helps to protect workers and the public from the threat of coronavirus.
The Welsh Government have announced that changes to the 2m physical distancing duty have come into force and have written an open letter to retailers concerning this which can be found here.
The new 2m regulation has consequences for premises, including shops. The Welsh Government has written to retailers in Wales recognising there are some occasions when it is not always possible to maintain 2m and set out additional measures businesses need to put in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus.
The guidance on this, which has been updated, also recognises that there are some workplace settings in which this distance may not be possible to maintain all of the time and in this situation, it makes clear that other measures should be considered e.g. minimising levels of interaction; physical barriers, improved hygiene, hygiene reminders, hand washing after close contact with others and ensuring those with symptoms are not present on the premises.
The Guidance confirms that all reasonable measures must be taken to maintain 2 metre distancing on premises or while anyone is working.
Next, other reasonable measures must be taken to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus. The main objective here is to reduce close face to face interaction and to enhance hygiene. These may be required in addition to maintaining physical distancing (for example though more frequent cleaning of premises) or instead of physical distancing (for example by using screens when close interaction between people is inevitable).
What other measures are reasonable required depends on the extent to which 2 metre physical distancing can be maintained. Where it can, little more is likely to be needed as long as hygiene standards are maintained. Where it can’t more will be needed. Much of what is required is an alternative to maintaining a 2 metre distance.
Finally, information should be provided about how to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus on premises.
Enforcement where all reasonable measures have not been taken will either entail a fixed penalty of £60 (this reduces to £30 if paid within 14 days but is doubled to £120 for a second a subsequent breach) or if charged and convicted, payment of a fine.
The Welsh Government also have their own advice for businesses in Wales: https://gov.wales/business-and-employers-coronavirus and additional resources can also be found here.
Business Wales have guidance on Keep Wales Safe at Work.
The Welsh Government have also produced a list of Frequently Asked Questions in relation to COVID-19 which sets out what you and businesses can and cannot do during the outbreak and what happens if you break these new laws.
Sector specific Guidance
The Welsh Government have produced certain sector specific guidance. The Guidance can be found here. In addition to the workplace sector guidance that can be found on the above link there is also information about guidance for a phased return to working in other sectors.
The Welsh Government have issued guidance for the tourism and hospitality business relating to phased re-opening.
The Welsh Government have also produced guidance relating to coronavirus for holiday accommodation businesses on reopening.
The Welsh Government has issued COVID-19 guidance for meat and food processing plants.
Guidance for close contact services can be found here.
As part of their guidance for keeping ‘Wales safe at work’, the Welsh government have also introduced a 5 step key principles for workplaces in Wales, summarised below.
1. Care: Our health and well-being comes first
Everyone should approach the health, safety and well-being of each other in the workplace through this emergency with compassion and understanding. Employers should look after their employees’ psychological and physical well-being. Employers can focus on reducing sources of stress for the workforce, both in terms of health anxiety and workload issues; with clear communications and assurance on the management of coronavirus (Covid-19) risk.
For those that cannot work from home, it is important for employers to establish an initial assessment on whether it is safe for staff to work and where relevant, signpost them to appropriate support organisations.
Employers should take extra care to safeguard vulnerable employees. They should record who is vulnerable and who has received a letter requiring them to shield.
2. Comply: The laws which keep us safe must be obeyed
Employers must continue to fulfil their legal duties under new and existing health and safety laws to maintain and protect the physical and mental health, safety and welfare of their employees and customers and visitors to their premises.
Where they cannot provide a safe working environment during the current emergency, they must determine what steps are needed to create one. If the employer still cannot provide a safe working environment, they must cease operations and if necessary, furlough staff.
Employees also have a legal responsibility to their employer and each other to follow instructions concerning safe working practices.
3. Involve: We all share the responsibility for safe work
Employers are required by law to protect their employees, and others, from harm. Employees also have a duty of care of their own safety and those of others. This is a shared responsibility.
Employers should maintain regular and meaningful engagement with their employees and with the recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers (including their health and safety committee, if this exists) during the coronavirus emergency.
4. Adapt: We will all need to change how we work
The consultation between employers and employees will help to identify the essential hygiene protocols, equipment and measures needed to keep the workplace safe from coronavirus (Covid-19) and limit its transmission. All work places are different, but there is a growing body of industry specific guidance and examples of good practice from work places which have not closed, available to draw upon.
Taking all reasonable measures to ensure that two metres distance is kept between all people in the workplace combined with robust hygiene measures is the aim.
5. Communicate: We must all understand what to do
It is essential that there is clear, precise and constant communication between employers, employees and other visitors to the workplace, about the reasonable and proportionate actions taken regarding workplace safety. It is important that everyone gets the same message and same instruction. Employers should ensure that communications are accessible for all staff.
Employees will need assurance before their return to work to that the employer is aware of any particular needs they have. All employees will need to be confident that the safety and well-being of the workforce and visitors is a key priority.
Safety messages should be circulated regularly to all employees using an agreed method which is accessible to all. Posters and prominent visual aids and notices in the workplace will help reinforce these safety messages.
The Welsh Government have produced posters which can be found here on Safety and physical distancing for employers. These signs cover:
- Clean workspaces
- Keeping your distance
- Wearing of Face masks.
For workplaces in Wales a copy of the notice which can be displayed to show that an Employer has taken the necessary steps to make their business COVID secure can be found within the sector specific Guidance issued by the Welsh Government.
The Welsh Government have also produced a COVID-19 workforce risk assessment tool.
From 14th September legal limits were imposed on the maximum number of people that can meet in a social group at any one time, whether indoors or outdoors. These limits do not apply to workplaces, alongside other exemptions.
Please see WHAT IMPLICTIONS DOES THE SO CALLED “RULE OF 6” HAVE FOR MY BUSINESS? for details of the restriction limiting social gatherings to a maximum of 6 people.