Back to Work: keeping the workplace Covid-safe

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The Government’s latest lifting of Covid-related restrictions, allowing businesses to return to the workplace, should mean worker welfare is a top priority according to health and safety experts.

Ensuring workers and customers are protected from the physical risk of infection and the potential impact of the pandemic on mental health is essential if companies are to avoid damaging investigations and potential prosecutions.

The latest annual report of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the body responsible for enforcing responsibilities, shows that 93,000 cases of Covid-19 in 2020/21 were attributed to exposure to the virus while at work.

Mental wellbeing is high on the agenda according to the HSE, with stress, depression and anxiety now constituting more than half of all new cases of work-related ill health.  A total of 822,000 employees were reported to be suffering from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2020/21, with the HSE identifying the coronavirus pandemic as a major contributory factor.

So far, few prosecutions have been brought against employers, but the HSE is undertaking spot checks and issuing enforcement notices.  Breach of an enforcement notice is grounds for prosecution, and the message is clear: employers need to keep on top of the latest guidance and legislation.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers must take steps to protect employees, whether in the workplace or acting offsite in a work capacity.  And all employers who have five or more in their workforce must have a written health and safety policy available to employees.

Said Richard Gvero, Head of Employment at Longmores Solicitors: “These are statutory duties which must be dealt with in all circumstances, but they are certainly more challenging during the pandemic, as we are dealing with a constantly changing situation.  Demonstrating compliance with health and safety obligations is a priority; regular communication with staff is good practice, as is keeping policies up to date and everyone aware of their responsibilities. The statutory regulations are in addition to the employer’s contractual duty to look after the wellbeing of staff at work”.

The Health and Safety Executive has a range of information for employers on how to make the workplace safe and protect staff during the pandemic, and offers a Talking toolkit as a resource for employers to handle work-related stress.

Here to Help

Our employment team of specialist solicitors help businesses and individuals; get in touch with Richard Gvero, Head of Employment, if you need advice.

Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.