On 22nd September the Prime Minister announced a reversal of previous advice that workers should return to work if their place of business was COVID-19 secure. The advice now is for workers to work from home if they can do so. Public sector employees working in essential services and those in professions where home working is not possible, like retail and construction, should continue to attend their workplaces. This advice is likely to be in place for six months.
New Covid-19 Rules For Businesses
Businesses that sell food or drink, indoor leisure centres or facilities, and other venues like theme parks must now close between 10 pm and 5 am. However, food delivery services can continue after 10 pm. Although deemed necessary, the 10 pm deadline could have a devastating impact on some businesses, especially venues like late-night bars, which typically make most of their revenue between 8 pm and 2 am.
Customers in licenced premises selling food and drink to be consumed in the premises must order from and be served at a table. Unlicensed venues like fast food restaurants do not have to offer table service, but customers must sit down to eat if they intend to consume food on the premises.
With the launch of the NHS test and trace app, businesses must now display official NHS QR code posters so that customers can “check-in” at different premises using the app as an alternative to manually providing their contact details.
Employers must not knowingly require or encourage someone who is being required to self-isolate to come to work, and it is still the employer’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their workers, even when they are working from home.
Face Coverings At Work
The Health Secretary has said the amount of people catching Covid-19 in workplaces is “relatively low”. NHS Test and Trace evidence shows that people are mainly catching the virus when meeting another household, usually in one of their homes. However, there have been changes to some rules regarding face mask use at work.
Face masks are now compulsory for bar staff, shop workers and waiters. Guidance stating that workers in close contact services should wear face coverings and visors became law on 24th September. Staff working on public transport and taxi drivers are still being advised to wear face coverings.
People who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, such as because of an underlying health condition, will continue to be exempt from these new rules.
Some supermarkets are reintroducing Covid-19 “wardens” at their entrances to enforce rules and ensure customers are wearing masks properly.
If employees do not have to wear a face covering but choose to do so, normal policies relating to occupational workwear and PPE must continue to apply.
Working From Home
The new government guidance says that people should work from home wherever possible. For advice on working safely from home see our article on Health and Safety While Working At Home During Coronavirus.
Although there have been some reports that home working has led to greater productivity, a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found there has been little overall impact during the crisis. Twenty-eight per cent of employers surveyed had seen a rise in productivity, while 37 per cent said workers had maintained productivity, but another 28 per cent said they had seen a drop.
An employer’s obligation to protect the health and safety of its employees includes their mental health and well-being. Employers have a duty to assess the risk of stress-related poor mental health that can arise from work activities and must take measures to control that risk. The HSE has resources for stress risk assessment, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has a guide on mental health support for employees.
What To Include In A COVID-19 Risk Assessment
From September 28th businesses and organisations face stricter rules on how to make their premises COVID Secure.
It is down to employers to ensure that the risk assessment for their business addresses the risks of COVID-19 using BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) guidance to inform decisions and control measures regarding close proximity working.
As a general rule, management of the risk of exposure to coronavirus should be through a system of control that includes social distancing, high standards of hand hygiene, increased surface cleaning, fixed teams or partnering, and other measures like the use of barriers or screens to separate people from each other.
To protect workers and others from coronavirus organisations and businesses must consider who could be at risk, decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed, identify which work activities or situations might cause transmission of the virus and then to take action to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk. During this process, employers must consult workers and their representatives as they could provide valuable information on how to control risks.
The HSE has issued a COVID-19 risk assessment template. The document can help ensure employers have covered everything to keep workers and others safe.
Once the risk assessment is completed and measures put in place, an employer will also have to monitor to check that steps put in place to reduce risk are working as expected.
With a return to normality still a long way off, the latest rules laid out by the government must be understood and followed by both employers and employees. By preparing for the challenges that winter will bring, businesses can safeguard their workers and be ready to take advantage of a reopening economy and society when it is safe to do so.
New Broom Training can keep you up to date with the latest health and safety legislation. We can provide help and advice on all aspects of health and safety including risk assessments and consultancy. Contact us for more information.