How Covid-secure Is Your Workplace?

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With the government introducing measures to gradually ease the lockdown many employers are now concerned about how Covid-secure the workplace is and what steps they should be taking to limit the spread of the virus in the workplace and protect staff when they return.

The government have updated their online guidance to include information on how to work safely during the Coronavirus pandemic.  The government has uploaded eight tailored guides which cover different types of workplace from factories to offices to restaurants.

The main thrust of this guidance is the requirement to conduct a workplace risk assessment and maintain an open dialogue with staff.  Employers should take steps to demonstrate to staff that they are providing a Covid-secure workplace and as part of that the government have produced a risk assessment notice for employers to print out and display in the workplace.

This risk assessment notice sets outs five steps that an employer should follow:

  1. Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment and share the results with staff
  2. Put into place cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
  3. Take reasonable steps to help people work from home
  4. Take reasonable steps to maintain a 2 metre distance between employees in the workplace
  5. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart in the workplace, confirm they have done everything reasonably practicable to manage the risk of transmission including the issue of appropriate protective equipment.

Why should employers take this guidance seriously?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure insofar as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of its staff in addition to the implied contractual duty.  Therefore, if an employer fails to demonstrate that they have considered and managed the risks associated with coronavirus in the workplace, the employer could be at risk of complaints from staff that the duty to provide a safe working environment has been breached.  This could result in grievances, which will district management time away from the business and result in poor employee relations, and if these concerns are sufficiently serious, employment tribunal claims.

Alternatively, staff could complain to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that there has been a breach of health and safety obligations which could result in the HSE taking action against an employer including issuing guidance in the form of enforcement notices.

Despite this new guidance many unanswered questions remain but as we have seen with the furlough scheme the government’s Covid-secure guidelines are likely to be revised and updated from time to time so it is worth regularly checking the government and HSE websites for further information.

If you would like to discuss your responsibilities as an employer or any concerns you might have as an employee in the workplace, please contact our Employment team.

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