How do I make my business Covid-Secure?
The Health and Safety Executive has set out guidance on its website intended to assist employers make their workplace as safe as reasonably practicable. The emphasis is on identifying and managing the risk associated with re-starting and operating businesses during the ongoing pandemic.
The starting point is the preparation or updating of risk assessments intended to control the risk of coronavirus in these businesses. The objective is to identify the hazards and the steps needed to protect employees and others and implement the measures needed to work safely.
There is an obligation on employers to look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees and protect them from harm. This will include taking all reasonably practicable steps to protect employees and other people from coronavirus.
In order to do so employers must:
- 1. Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
- 2. Consider who could be at risk
- 3. Determine the likelihood of exposure
- 4. Take action to eliminate the risk or control it if that is not possible.
If you have 5 or more employees the risk assessment must be recorded in writing, although If you have fewer than five employees it may still be advisable to prepare a written risk assessment.
Employers will need to consult with people and involve them in the steps taken to control the risk of coronavirus in the workplace. Businesses should explain the changes they are planning, to enable everyone to work safely. It is important that employers ensure that the changes will work and that employees’ ideas are heard.
HSE has identified a number of specific things to consider:
The Health and Safety Executive has been clear. “Everyone who can work from home should do so”. It has identified that employers “should” help their employees to do so by providing the equipment they require to work effectively. Specific examples given by HSE include providing: a computer; a phone; and videoconferencing facilities.
Home working is likely to be the single most effective control measure in preventing employees from coming into contact with coronavirus in the workplace.
It is vitally important to stay in regular contact with employees, making sure that their wellbeing is discussed.
Employers may identify people who cannot work from home when undertaking the risk assessment exercise, particularly people who operate machinery or work on a construction site. In doing so, employers will need to identify the specific changes required in the workplace to reduce risk and make it ‘COVID-secure’ for the workers who cannot do their jobs from home.
Where workers are shielding because they are clinically vulnerable, HSE has specifically identified that employers should not ask them to work outside their home. Help should be provided to allow them to work from home, either in their current role or in an alternative role.
Workers who live with someone who is shielding, should be consulted to try to agree the best way to protect the shielded person. This may include working from home.
Entrances and exits
Arrival and departure times should be staggered to ensure that people do not use entry and exit points at the same time.
Handwashing facilities should be provided to enable people to wash their hands when they arrive at work and immediately before they leave. Hand sanitiser should be provided where this is not possible.
Employees should be kept 2 metres apart and only one person should be allocated to work in each area. If this is not possible, then the number of people in each work area should be as low as possible.
Measures to assist workers with social distancing include: floor tape or paint to mark work areas; signage to remind people to maintain a 2 m distance; screens to create a physical barrier between people; side-by-side working; limiting the movement of people; rotating between jobs and equipment; in high-traffic areas like corridors using turnstiles and walkways; and only allowing essential trips within buildings and between sites.
Breaks and canteens
Breaktimes should be staggered to ensure that people are not using break rooms, canteens or rest areas at the same time.
Outside areas should be used for breaks. Employees should be encouraged to remain on site during working hours.
HSE note that the provision of packaged meals could help to avoid fully opening canteens. Seating and table layout should be reconfigured in welfare areas to ensure that social distancing is maintained.
Signs and posters should be used to encourage good handwashing techniques and remind people to cough/sneeze into an arm and to avoid touching their faces.
Handwashing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels should be provided along with hand sanitiser at locations in addition to washrooms.
Hand sanitiser should be used by people handling deliveries, if they are unable to wash their hands
Surfaces must remain clean. It may be necessary to increase the level and frequency of cleaning as well as cleaning surfaces that may not ordinarily be cleaned.
Clean equipment frequently
HSE identify that there should be clear guidance for the use and cleaning of toilets, showers and changing facilities to ensure that they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible.
Work areas and equipment should be cleaned between uses. Objects and surfaces that are touched regularly should be frequently cleaned and disinfected.
If equipment like tools or vehicles are shared they should be cleaned after each use.
These measures are not exhaustive and there may be other controls that will need to be implemented depending on the specific nature of individual businesses. Businesses will also need to stay abreast of current Covid alert levels and guidance as the measures required may need to be increased or be capable of being relaxed in line with this.
It is unlikely that workplaces will resemble anything close to those in the pre-covid world in the short to medium term. Employers and employees must work together to adapt to the new normal as businesses reopen their doors to keep people as safe as is possible.
Businesses are advised to consult and engage with health and safety consultants who will be able to assist with risk assessments and the implementation of measures to make premises covid secure. We are able to signpost employers to health and safety professionals as required.
Employers should be ready to engage with regulators if contact is made during this period but should seek the urgent advice of a regulatory solicitor to consider how to handle the regulator’s enquiries.
Our Regulatory Partner, James Lowe, is offering a free 1 hour consultation for any business contacted by the HSE or local authorities in respect of compliance issues relating to Covid 19. James can be contacted on 07833 240400.