Employment Law Bulletin - Returning to Work - Article 3: Making the Workplace Covid-Secure
Making the workplace Covid-secure
The employer has a duty to take all reasonable steps to provide employees with a safe place to work and a safe way of working. The coronavirus crisis is unique in that it has an impact on the safety of every workplace in the country and all employers will need to develop a specific response to it. In the first instance that means carrying out a risk assessment designed to identify the risks of transmission of Covid-19 and identify the steps that can be taken to reduce that risk. Employees must be fully informed of the results of this risk assessment and the employer must consult either the appropriate health and safety representatives – or the employees directly – over any new safety measures that are to be introduced.
Central to these will be handwashing and hygiene procedures. Enhanced cleaning regimes will be needed for busy areas with particular attention paid to surfaces that are touched regularly. Employees should be given clear instructions about frequent handwashing and provided with hand sanitiser around the workplace – not just in the toilets.
The maintenance of social distancing is the next key requirement. Wherever possible employers should ensue that employees remain at least 2m apart and avoid the use of shared workstations. Employers should introduce appropriate signage, including floor-tape to mark out 2m distances, to help employees judge the correct distance. Where appropriate, employers could also introduce a one-way system for employees walking around the workplace.
Where keeping people 2m apart at all times is not reasonably practicable then the employer must do everything it can to manage the risk of transmission. This may mean using barriers or screens to separate people, staggering arrival and departure times, having employees work back-to-back rather than face-to face and reducing the number of people each employee has to interact with.
One area that the employer cannot control is the employee’s journey to work. Employees are being advised to avoid public transport wherever possible. Where public transport is available, it is likely to be at a considerably reduced capacity. Employers should consider what measures they can take to assist employees in making their journey as safe as possible. This might mean providing enhanced parking facilities or even making use of the government’s cycle to work scheme to help employees buy bicycles! Where employees have no alternative to public transport then employers should consider flexible start and finish times to allow employees to avoid congested periods.