As always, the workplace needs to be clean but special attention will be needed if the premises have been closed, a deep clean may be necessary. Facilities should be available for hand washing with soap and water supplies and hand sanitiser where necessary. Employers should ensure that employees are able to take the time needed to wash their hands and reminders should be issued about the importance of this.
On 11 May 2020 the government announced further ‘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. The Welsh government have produced their own separate guidance for keeping ‘Wales safe at work’. Please see further on for more detail on this.
The new guidance continues to be updated and now covers at least 14 different workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways.
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 has been updated from the earlier version to reflect the changes made to the 2m distance rule in England. In view of this change this notice now applies to England only. For workplaces in Wales, a copy of the applicable notice can be found within the sector specific Guidance issued by the Welsh Government. More details on this can be found below.
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. All versions of the guidance can be found here.
On 23 June 2020, it was announced that from 4 July 2020 further measures will take affect in 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.
Previously there was ‘5 Steps to working safely’ to supplement the guidance but this was withdrawn on 9 September 2020.
It should also be noted that in Wales, the government have decided to introduce 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 only applies to England and therefore does not change anything in Wales. These regulations in Wales 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. The guidance on this 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. 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, including sector specific guidance, all of which can be found here: https://gov.wales/business-and-employers-coronavirus
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.
Since restrictions on the national lockdown have started to be lifted, there is still a risk of local restrictions, so it is essential that regular checks are made to establish if there are any local restrictions applicable to you. Details of affected areas can be found here.
In all settings and locations, where necessary ensure that staff have any appropriate PPE needed to do their job safely and are also properly trained to use it.
When any employees are back in the workplace its important that they know what to do if they become unwell or suspect that they or members of their household have symptoms of coronavirus. Employers, managers and employees should continue to be vigilant and know what sort of things they should look out for in case people show symptoms.
Measures you can consider adopting to keep employees safe in the workplace:
- Keeping certain teams together and keeping teams small where possible.
- Staggering start/finish/breaks times to avoid large groups and encourage social distancing.
- Working from home may still be an option for some in order to keep the number of people in the workplace to a minimum.
- Signs in the workplace to remind staff about social distancing and handwashing. Where possible, floor markers can be useful to show what 2 metres looks like (or 1 metre where appropriate).
- If you have visitors, customers or any other third parties coming to your workplace, make sure that there is clear instruction for these people about what steps you are taking and what you expect them to do when visiting your premises to keep themselves and your staff safe.
- A trial period, especially where you are adopting any new measures in the workplace. If there is any trial, workers should be made aware of this and kept informed.
- Remind employees about their eligibility for a coronavirus test and how to get tested. For information on this please see ‘Are my workers and I entitled to be tested for coronavirus?’ and ‘Can I arrange for my own testing of employees?’ in our separate coronavirus Q&A.
- Remember there are not just physical risks to employees’ health, their mental health can be affected too, so consider what support you are able to offer. ACAS have guidance on coronavirus and mental health at work.
More detail on these matters above is available in our separate ‘COVID-19 Secure – What you need to know’ Q&As.
There is likely to be further guidance and/or changes to guidance on safe working practices, so it is important that you keep what steps you have taken under review and be prepared to change any measures in response to any announced changes. It is also recommended that you document all steps taken.