COVID-19: Essential guidance about the impact on workplace health and safety
The situation is changing each day and it is important for employers to keep abreast of the latest guidance.
In these unprecedented times, employers need to respond quickly to the spread of COVID-19 and have an understanding of the impact that the virus may have on how health and safety is managed.
Employers are being encouraged to reduce the spread of the virus amongst their employees and maintain a healthy work environment and there is a wealth of guidance from the Government about transmission control.
We have summarised below some of the key points to bear in mind from the perspective of health and safety management in the workplace and what practical steps businesses may need to take.
- COVID-19 specific risk assessment
All employers should undertake an evaluation of the activities they are engaged in and assess the risks posed by COVID-19 both in terms of the generic risks which will be relevant to all operations and those which are more specific to their business or services. Once those risks have been identified appropriate control measures should be introduced. Significant findings of risk assessments should be recorded by employers of five or more employees.
- Revisit existing risk assessments
Risk assessments should be revisited if there is reason to suspect they are no longer valid or there has been a significant change in the matters to which they relate. Therefore, any current risk assessments which are impacted by COVID-19 should be reviewed and revised as necessary. Employers should consider reminding workers of the need to make them aware of any medical conditions which may affect the assessments.
In addition, employers should consider whether this time can be used as an opportunity to undertake a more general review of your organisations’ suite of risk assessments, particularly if you are experiencing a quieter period as a result of the pandemic.
Individual cases of COVID-19 are RIDDOR reportable in certain circumstances according to the latest Guidance from the HSE.
a. Where there is an unintended incident at work which has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to Coronavirus - this must be reported as a ‘dangerous occurrence’; or
b. Where a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work - this must be reported as a case of a ‘disease’.
In respect of (b) above, it may be very difficult to ascertain whether someone has contracted COVID-19 as a result of exposure at work but if a healthcare worker, for example, is involved in treating COVID-19 patients and they subsequently become ill with the virus, a RIDDOR report should be completed.
- Personal Protective Equipment
If your assessment identifies that PPE is an appropriate control measure, appropriate PPE should be provided to your workers. There have been reports of shortages of certain types of PPE and the law is clear that if it is not possible to do the work safety then the work should not be carried out. Information and training should be provided to workers to make sure they select the right PPE and use it correctly. Employees should sign to confirm that such training has been carried out.
Increasing numbers of employees working from home poses not only technological challenges but also risks arising from Display Screen Equipment (DSE), lone working and stress related issues. In terms of DSE the HSE’s guidance is that home workstation assessments do not need to be conducted for those working from home temporarily. The issue is of course that we are unclear as to how long the travel restrictions are going to remain in place and therefore how long workers might need to work from home.
- Lone working
Consideration should be given to those workers who will now be considered to be lone workers and assessments conducted in relation to the management of the risks they face.
- Stress and mental health
The pandemic is a hugely stressful time for everyone but there are workers who will be more susceptible to suffering harm to their mental health. This may include workers who feel isolated from their team or workers who are working longer hours in difficult conditions to meet demand. In addition, there will be workers who feel vulnerable about the gloomy economic impact of the virus and whether they will lose their jobs. The Government has a package of practical measures in place to help prop up the economy but employers should think about how they can improve the measures for communicating with their workforce and the well-being resources which they can provide.
- Information, instruction and training for new workers
If your business has seen a surge in demand for your products or services or you have experienced staff shortages as a result of workers becoming ill or self-isolating, you may need to recruit new staff to start with immediate effect. It is important to ensure that such workers undergo training in relation to key health and safety topics. It may be possible to streamline this training but care must be taken in this regard and evidence obtained as to the dates/content of training given. Where focused training is given, consider what additional supervision and monitoring can be demonstrated.
On a final note, the situation is changing each day and it is important for employers to keep abreast of the latest guidance. Specialist advice to help employers manage the workplace risks associated with COVID-19 can be provided by Weightmans’ Regulatory Team.