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Covid-19: safe working – latest advice and guidance

Although many businesses have been forced to close under the current lockdown restrictions, there are a vast number of “essential” businesses who are permitted to remain open. It is therefore important that those who remain open operate in a COVID-secure way and continue to comply with the legal duties owed to their employees, contractors and anyone else who is affected by their business activities.

Section 2 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes a general duty on employers to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, they are protecting the health, safety and welfare of all employees at work.

HSE is continuing to carry out spot checks and inspections on all types of businesses that have been able to remain open to ensure they are COVID-secure. The implications of not providing a COVID-secure workplace are that HSE can, during a spot check or inspection, consider action in line with their enforcement policy.

In addition to its ordinary regulatory functions, the role of the HSE is now to assist and support public health bodies in understanding whether workplaces are contributing where infection levels have become a concern in a particular community. Even where infection levels are low, HSE is continuing to carry out spot checks and inspections and you must comply fully. If you fail to comply or participate, this could lead to enforcement action being taken. This may include the service of an Improvement Notice, Prohibition Notice or even prosecution.

There are a number of ways in which businesses can ensure that they are operating in a COVID-secure way and are able to demonstrate this to the HSE should they receive a visit.

These include:

1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment: As an employer, it is paramount that you are protecting those people involved in the running of your business from harm and taking reasonable steps to protect them from coronavirus. The HSE has provided guidance which you must follow:

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus;

  • think about who could be at risk;

  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed;

  • act to remove the activity or situation or, if this isn’t possible, control the risk.

To assist businesses in managing the risks, the HSE has created a risk assessment template to ensure that all aspects are covered. This will also be useful should you receive a spot check or inspection to be able to demonstrate that you have thought about the risks affecting your

workers and others, and how you are effectively managing those risks.

2. Maintaining social distancing: This should also form part of your risk assessment and can be difficult depending on what type of business you are operating. Conversations with your employees will help you to identify problem areas. Some helpful tips include:

  • Where workers share equipment, think about allocating one piece of equipment per person and, where a task requires 2 people, redesigning the task.

  • Identify where workers and customers congregate e.g. break rooms or waiting rooms and use markers on the floor to help people maintain social distancing in these spaces.

  • Change when and where people work to reduce the number of people in a space at any one time.

Where it isn’t possible to maintain social distancing, reduce face-to-face contact by having people work back to back and have additional hand sanitiser available as well as hand washing facilities to ensure work areas are kept as clean as possible.

3. Keeping your workplace clean, with handwashing and hygiene procedures: When completing your COVID-19 risk assessment, ensure that you have enough handwashing facilities and identify where you may need to provide additional facilities. Another important point is to try and reduce people’s contact with surfaces and objects, which is better than relying on the need for cleaning. You should try to act in a preventative way to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

It is important that you continue to comply with your legal and regulatory obligations and are prepared should HSE spot check your business.

Written by

Holly Bahn, Trainee Solicitor at rradar