As many businesses reopen the government has issued several measures, resources and guidance around COVID-19. Whilst health and safety remain of utmost importance, the HSE has said it intends to adopt a pragmatic and proportionate approach towards enforcement action for non-compliance with statutory requirements which are directly because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Working Safely – Being COVID-19 Secure
The government has issued guidance on being COVID-secure, i.e. working safely. There are several ways businesses can achieve this, including putting social distancing measures in place, providing additional handwashing facilities, and staggering shifts.
Whatever measures an employer is planning, the government recommends that they involve and consult with their workers to hear ideas and ensure changes will work. Businesses should share the results of risk assessments with their workforce. The government expects all businesses with over 50 workers to publish the results on their website.
The government has provided a notice to download, print and display in the workplace to show a business has followed this guidance.
The government has issued further guidance for people who work in construction and other outdoor work, factories, plants and warehouses, labs and research facilities, offices and contact centres, other people’s homes, restaurants offering takeaway or delivery, shops and branches, and for people who work in or from vehicles. There are also links to guidance for educational and childcare settings and public transport operators.
The HSE has issued the following guides in PDF format:
Working safely during the coronavirus outbreak (PDF): A guide to the steps to take to help protect people from coronavirus in the workplace. These include taking measures to work at home where possible, maintaining social distancing, cleaning and hygiene.
The HSE has also released Talking with your workers about working safely during the coronavirus outbreak (PDF).
Social distancing means staying 2 metres apart from other people. Introduced as a public health measure to reduce the spread of infection, now the HSE is working with trade unions to implement it within the workplace. Measures include isolating areas, using markings, barriers or signage to ensure minimal contact between people, and the use of a chaperone with visitors and customers. People should also observe social distancing guidance whilst travelling to and from a workplace, as far as is practical.
If the HSE identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, including not taking appropriate action to socially distance, they will consider taking action to improve the control of workplace risks. This can range from providing specific advice to employers to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements with the guidance.
Ensuring Equipment Remains Safe To Use
The HSE says it understands the potential challenges when carrying out legal requirements for the thorough examination and testing (TE&T) of plant and equipment resulting from the additional precautions people need to take to help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Businesses should maintain their thorough examination and testing scheme and cooperate with inspection bodies to ensure access to plant and equipment for TE&T continues to schedule. Businesses that have either elected to or must remain closed to meet COVID-19 related government advice or restrictions should still give access to visiting inspectors to undertake thorough examinations.
However, the HSE accepts there may be occasions when inspectors may have to prioritise critical industries and protecting equipment aiding vulnerable persons and that this may lead to difficulties for some businesses fulfilling their obligations for TE&T. Any business experiencing problems in undertaking scheduled thorough examinations because of the unavailability of inspection services should adopt a risk-based process to determine the whether there are steps they can take to continue safely using equipment (that has not had its scheduled TE&T) or stop using the equipment. The overarching legal obligation of the duty holder to ensure that equipment is safe to use remains in place.
The HSE has said it will take no action if the only failing is that TE&T is not performed by the required date. However, the duty holder must be able to show they have made all reasonable attempts to have the TE&T carried out, made a thorough assessment of the increased risk and taken appropriate action to manage it. Businesses should only use equipment outside of its test regime if the duty holder can show that it is critical for essential work and that it can still be operated safely.
The law for Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR) remain in place. The HSE has issued a guidance note (PDF) for duty holders and inspectors on carrying out a thorough examination and testing of lifting and pressure equipment during the coronavirus outbreak.
Businesses should review their first aid needs assessment and decide if they can still provide the cover needed for workers and the activities they are doing. If coronavirus issues have reduced first aid cover or you cannot access the first aid training you need, there are some things you can do to still comply with the law.
It may still be safe to operate with reduced first aid cover if fewer people are entering the workplace. It may also be possible to stop higher-risk activities to reduce the likelihood of accidents occurring. If a business has inadequate first aid cover, it may be possible to share first aiders from another business, provided this does not adversely affect the assisting business’s first aid provision. Shared first aiders must know the injuries or illnesses they may encounter, which should be identified in a first aid needs assessment. They should also have the training and skills to address these needs, be familiar with your work environment and its first aid facilities, and be able to get to your workplace in good time if needed.
If a first aider has a certificate due to expire on or after 16 March 2020 and cannot access requalification training because of coronavirus it may be possible to qualify for a 3-month extension. Businesses can restart interrupted first aid training at a later date. The HSE has provided further details on first aid certificates and training during the coronavirus outbreak.
A building that has been closed or had reduced occupancy during the coronavirus outbreak may have an increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease because of stagnation in the water system. Employers and others in control of premises, such as landlords, have a duty to identify and control risks associated with legionella. These duty holders should review their risk assessment and manage the legionella risks to protect people when the water system is reinstated or returned to use.
RIDDOR Reporting for Covid-19 Related Incidents
The HSE has provided extra guidance on how to make a report under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) for Covid-19 related incidents. Any incident at work that leads to a worker’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus must be reported as a dangerous occurrence. A worker diagnosed with coronavirus with reasonable evidence that it was because of exposure at work must be reported as an exposure to a biological agent using the case of disease report. If a registered medical practitioner confirms a worker’s death as likely because of exposure to coronavirus at their work, it must also be reported as a death due to exposure to a biological agent using the case of disease report form. A business must report workplace fatalities to HSE by the quickest practicable means without delay and within 10 days of the incident.
The government has announced a temporary relaxation of the enforcement of drivers’ hours rules. However, driver safety must not be compromised, and employers should not expect drivers to drive whilst tired. Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees, other road users, and anyone involved in loading and unloading vehicles.
A lot of the guidance given or referred to in this article is likely to be updated regularly as the Covid-19 situation develops. It is recommended that duty holders regularly check the HSE website and other relevant web pages. Some web pages offer an opportunity to receive notices of updates via email.