COVID-19: returning to the workplace

Posted on 19th October 2020

The Government continues to provide guidance on returning to work safely if you cannot work from home. Your employer must make arrangements for you to work safely. If you, or anyone, currently has symptoms of coronavirus then you must not go to work.

Government Guides on staying safe at work

The Government has issued 14 guides covering a range of different types of work including:-

  • Close contact services
  • Construction and other outdoor work
  • Factories, plants and warehouses
  • Heritage locations
  • Hotels and other guest accommodation
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Offices and contact centres
  • Other people’s homes
  • Performing arts
  • Providers of grassroots sport and gym/leisure facilities
  • Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
  • Shops and branches
  • Vehicles
  • The visitor economy

The purpose of the guidance is to provide employers with practical steps to identify the risks that Covid-19 presents in the workplace and to enable employers to mitigate the issues safely. It is important to note that these new guidelines do not replace any existing legal obligations your employers have.

Employer’s duty of care to employees during a pandemic

It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. If your workplace is open, your employer should make appropriate arrangements to make sure it is safe for you to return to work.

Guidelines have also been published by the Health and Safety Executive, these are summarised below:

  • Talk to workers and provide information

Your employers should make you aware on how they are managing the risk of infection at work and what changes are to take place to reduce the risks of the viruses spreading.

  • Covid-19 risk assessments

As stated above, employers are required by law to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. They must do whatever is reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of contracting the infection at work. To do so, employers must undertake Covid-19 risk assessments to help them identify potential hazards and assess the risk of them occurring which means they need to take reasonable steps to protect employees and others from viral spread.

  • Protecting vulnerable workers

Employers should consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and put controls in place to reduce that said risk. The NHS has provided a list of individuals at high and moderate risks. Some examples of people at high risk are people who are undergoing chemotherapy, people who have had an organ transplant or people with a serious lung condition.

Examples of people at moderate risk are people with diabetes, people with a condition affecting the brain or nerves, people with a heart disease, people with a lung condition, people with a high body mass index (40 or above) or pregnant workers.

To access the full list, please visit the NHS website.

Making the workplace COVID-secure

Below are some examples of steps employers should take into account when attempting to reduce the risk for employees and visitors to contract Covid-19.

  1. Introducing shift patterns. To minimise the chances of the virus from spreading at the workplace, shifts/rotas should be introduced in order to avoid all workers returning to their workplace all at once.
  2. Screenings. Although some employers are implementing temperature checks at the entrance of a workplace it is important to note that these are not entirely reliable measures first of all, because asymptomatic workers may not be traced by a temperature scanner but also, because members of staff showing abnormally high results (above 38°C) may not necessarily be infected with Covid-19.
  3. Social distancing. Your employers have to ensure their employees can safely social distance while at work. The governmental guidelines stress the need to maintain social distancing. You are reminded that whenever possible you should keep 2 metres apart from people. If this is not possible you should keep at least 1 metre apart. In order to maintain social distances employers have to make changes for instance by introducing a one way street system and using floor markings, providing signage to remind people to keep a 2m distance, moving desks apart, using transparent screens to separate people, placing employee side-by-side rather than face-to-face and limit movement of people at one time.
  4. Cleaning and hygiene. We know that coronavirus can spread from people to surfaces, keeping the workplace clean therefore reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread. Your employers should have your work place clean regularly and place signs to help workers to remind them to wash their hands frequently, practice good handwashing technique, cover their sneeze/cough using their arm. Your employers should also ensure that you have access to hand sanitisers and wipes so you may be able to clean your equipment, such as your keyboard, telephone and all other surfaces that are regularly touched.
  5. Personal protective equipment (‘PPE’). Depending on your area of work if the risk of contamination is high, PPE, or additional PPE, may be required. If that is the case then your employers must provide it to you.
  6. Ventilation. Ventilating a building plays an important role in controlling the infection so windows and doors should be opened whenever possible and air con should use fresh air rather than recirculated air.

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