With the government announcement encouraging people who cannot work from home to go back to work if they can safely do so, and with the expected further lifting of lockdown restrictions to allow more businesses to reopen, it is vital to use this time wisely and plan.
We cannot give specific advice because by the time you read this things might have changed, but the starting point will be the government guidance on working safely during Covid-19*. This resource hub includes specific guidance for different types of businesses and will be updated if the advice changes.
This government guidance does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities and businesses must continue to comply with their existing obligations. Just as a breach of those obligations could result in you facing a claim from your employees or member of the public, there is a risk that if you do not comply with the Covid-19 guidance and put people at risk you could be liable if cases of coronavirus can be traced to your failings.
Having looked carefully at the guidance, you then need to carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment. Risk assessments should not be a new experience as you should have them in place for other health and safety issues within your business. It is important that you take them seriously, and not just “go through the motions” as we all know what a real and dangerous threat Coronavirus is. The Health & Safety Executive* is also an important and useful source of information to assist with the preparation of risk assessments.
If you have fewer than 5 workers, or are self-employed, you not need to have a written risk assessment, but in practice it would seem prudent to do so, as it will demonstrate that you are taking your responsibilities seriously.
The aim of a risk assessment is to help you do everything reasonably practicable to minimise the risk, recognising you cannot completely eliminate the risk of Covid-19. Much of the guidance involves minimising contact. So, if you can restrict the number of customers and clients you come into contact with so much the better. This might mean, for example, continuing to have meetings remotely (instead face to face), or operate an order and collect/delivery system, rather than simply re-opening your doors to all. If you cannot, then the protective measures such as use of PPE, social distancing, cleansing and sanitising etc will all need to be put into place. Different businesses will face different challenges and have different needs.
Once your risk assessment has identified what you need to do, put those actions into place and ensure that your plans are fully communicated and clear – and that you enforce them.
As well as considering the health and safety of those employees who do return to work, it is also important to consider those who might experience difficulties in returning to work. For example, they might not be able to get into the workplace safely because of public transport issues, or they are clinically vulnerable. They may require extra protection and you must ensure that you do not discriminate against them directly or indirectly.
Finally, do keep monitoring those who remain furloughed, or are still working from home. Their wellbeing remains important, particularly if more and more of their colleagues are returning to work.
Remember that once you have done all you need to do at this point in time, it is important to keep everything under review. Check with your staff that they are happy with how things are going, listen to their concerns or suggestions and check the official guidance for updates and make changes where necessary.
Hopefully by taking a common sense approach, following the guidance and consulting with your employees, the transition to the “new normal” will not be too onerous and we can get back to business.
Published 18 May 2020
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