Creating a COVID secure workplace

Following the government announcement on Sunday 10 May 2020, and the publication of the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy document which set outs its roadmap to bring the UK out of COVID-19 lockdown, in this blog we look at the proposals for returning to work and how employers can create a COVID secure workplace.

 

What does the document say?

The proposals on work are set out in the document and take effect from Wednesday 13 May 2020. They state that for the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. All workers who cannot work from home should now travel to work if their workplace is open and it is safe to do so.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy unveiled workplace guidance for eight different sectors of the economy. These sectors are:

  • construction and other outdoor work,
  • factories, plants and warehouses,
  • lab and research facilities,
  • offices and contact centres,
  • other people’s homes,
  • restaurants offering takeaways or delivery,
  • shops and branches and
  • guidance for people who work from vehicles.

Common to all the guidance is a requirement to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, coupled with an instruction to employers to consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union, or if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers. Employers cannot however decide who the representative will be.

 

How can I make the workplace “COVID Secure”?

As soon as practicable, employers  should follow the new COVID-19 secure guidelines. The Government have said the new COVID-19 secure guidance will work alongside current health and safety rules.  The aim of the guidance is to provide a framework to get the UK back to work in a way that is safe for everyone.

In practice, it is likely that a COVID secure workplace will require screens, barriers, floor marking, signage, hand sanitiser, face masks and potentially a whole range of other interventions. All of this will take time to procure and set up, which is why union leaders are suggesting this could take two weeks to implement. At the same time those workplaces who have continued to operate during lockdown will presumably have already adapted many of these provisions so will be able to accommodate greater staff numbers more quickly.

 

Key considerations for employers

  • Allow sufficient time for careful advance planning, including consultation with representatives or workers, before fixing a return to work schedule.
  • Put in place a Health & Safety COVID-19 return to work protocol/policy, reflecting risk assessments and measures and take all possible steps to inform employees of the measures taken.
  • Provide training in social distancing and hygiene measures and ensure managers are fully briefed and able to respond appropriately to staff concerns.
  • Introduce a sustainable policy for staff who are continuing to work at home, who are shielding, caring and vulnerable and ensure that it is applied consistently and fairly. Update home working policies and risk assessments as necessary.
  • Consider requiring all employees returning to work to confirm, in writing, that they have understood and will abide by new workplace protection rules. Appropriate training should be provided as required.
  • Review whistleblowing policies and procedures. Establish anonymous reporting for workers to report unsafe practices and be prepared to address any such reports rapidly.
  • Ensure flexibility – businesses should prepare to change their approach to maintain safe operations reflecting a fast-moving and evolving situation; and
  • Consider contingency measures which may be necessary to make the business resilient in case of a further lockdown

 

 

20 May 2020

Catherine Wilson

Catherine specilaises in all aspects of employment law, with a particular emphasis on discrimination, whistleblowing, redundancies and senior executive severances. Catherine is head of employment at Keebles LLP.

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