Your guide to recovery and resilience

Compliance - Health and safety

Your guide to recovery & resilience | Compliance - Health and safety

H&S

Employers have clear duties under existing health and safety legislation. Obligations to comply with health and safety at work and to manage and control workplace risks includes protecting workers and others from the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace.

That duty is to do everything “reasonably practicable” to manage these risks. The onus of demonstrating that everything reasonably practicable has been done falls to the employer. The best way to demonstrate compliance with the law is usually to follow government and industry-led guidance wherever possible.

Health and safety legal obligations cover employees and third parties and the potential physical interaction between them when they visit your working environment as well.

This guide looks in more detail at what you should consider when moving from survival mode towards recovery and thrive. As we enter this next phase, by supporting each other in business we can make way for a brighter future.

What is the current guidance on returning to work?
Government guidance remains that employees should work from home where possible. If it is not possible, employees can and should return to work unless they work in one of the sectors which are required to remain closed. This advice was introduced during the government briefing on 10 May 2020.

Businesses planning on returning to work will have to review and assess what the risks to employees and others will be from a return to work as lockdown restrictions are eased, taking account of any guidance.

Detailed government guidance has been issued on a sector specific and work type basis for businesses to control the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace. Some businesses may work across a number of work types such as offices, factories and outdoors and therefore may need to consult more than one of these guides.

Each business will have differing needs and requirements when considering whether and how they should reopen and allow employees and others to visit their place of work. This guidance is to protect and support employees with their physical work and their mental health. Businesses can access and read the detailed guidance here.

If employees or third parties (such as customers or suppliers) are returning to your working environment, remember your overriding obligation to reduce the risk of COVID-19 as far as “reasonably practicable”.

Don’t forget the value of risk assessments

Risk assessments are a key part of this process and will allow businesses to assess the working environment to identify and evaluate the hazards and risks (including at risk persons such as vulnerable and/or shielded people), determine appropriate and proportionate controls and record those steps before implementation.

Risk assessments should address all aspects of the working environment including shared office resources (such as kitchens, canteens and printers) and personal office resources (such as desk spaces).

Remember that risk assessments not only help create the practical solutions to ensure that you comply with your ongoing health and safety obligations but also create the necessary audit trail to demonstrate that compliance. Keep your risk assessments up to date and review and update where necessary. Do not disregard employees who continuing to work at home in this process.

Some common issues
Most risk assessments will address concerns and practical steps to deal with:

  • Vulnerable and shielded employees
  • Steps to protect employees, customers and third parties visiting the work place
  • Practical implementation of social distancing in the work place environment
  • Regulation and use of shared or communal spaces including access, lifts and canteens
  • Benefits and pitfalls in sourcing and usingpersonal protective equipment
  • Enhanced cleaning or increased access to and provision of sanitising products
  • Isolation procedures for symptomatic persons
  • Mental health and wellbeing of employees (including those continuing to work at home)
  • The impact of any changes on the office environment and the ability to work safely.

Engagement should be encouraged with individuals to ensure practical steps are taken to manage individual risks and concerns.

Practical suggestions
Each work environment is different and businesses should consult the most up to date guidance or seek industry or legal advice on the steps they are or are proposing to take.

Practical solutions currently being envisaged:

Policies and procedures
Ensure staff and third parties are aware of your policies and procedures when visiting the working environment including your own guidance on how the working environment should operate now to mitigate risk.

Hygiene
Provide and promote handwashing and sanitising facilities and enhanced cleaning function in the office to maximise hygiene standards (particularly in communal spaces).

Use of PPE
Consider the use of PPE in the working environment and where that would be appropriate and how your policy will meet the needs and expectations of those visiting.

Physical environment
Review the physical working environment and what controls and measures can be taken to maintain as far as reasonably practicable social distancing of 2m and avoid crowding.

Staggered return
Consider a staggered, phased or rota return for work where social distancing may prove problematic due to space or access constraints.

Different working patterns
Consider staggered start times or shift working and liaising with other occupants in shared buildings where joint access is used to agree a common approach.

Working practices
Consider the need to reduce or limit time spent on face to face contact and how to promote remote working practices in the work environment. A full list of the guidance produced by the government can be found here. If in doubt, remember to take professional or industry led advice on best practice and the latest guidance given the evolving situation.

A full list of the guidance produced by the government can be found here.

If in doubt, remember to take professional or industry led advice on best practice and the latest guidance given the evolving situation.

Contact us
In response to the pandemic we created our coronavirus hub which includes advice, guidance and insight to help you navigate through these uncertain times. As we all begin to adapt and prepare for the future, our hub will evolve to provide you with further help and resources for surviving, reviving and beginning to thrive in life and business, throughout the challenging times ahead.

Our free legal helpline offers bespoke guidance on a range of subjects, from employment and general business matters through to director’s responsibilities, insolvency, restructuring, funding and disputes. We also have a team of experts on hand for any queries on family and private matters too. Available from 10am-12pm Monday to Friday, call 0800 689 4064.

For legal support in relation to the coronavirus or any other matter, get in touch with your team today.

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