Creating a COVID-19 Safe WorkplacePosted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 11 June 2020
Creating a Covid-19 Safe Workplace
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought workplace health and safety issues into sharp focus. Employers are rightly concerned not only about ensuring they can provide safe systems of work for their employees but also avoiding any allegations of negligence. The HSENI return to work safety guidance provides employers with some tips on what they need to do ensure their workplace are Covid-19 safe, but what does a Covid-19 safe workplace look like? For example, should air conditioning by turned off; must employees wear face masks or other PPE; are employers obliged to publish risk assessments? This article provides some best practice guidance on what meets the definition of a Covid-19 Safe Workplace and provides you with a checklist of must do’s.
Back to basics – Carry out a Covid risk assessment
- The same rules on carrying out and implementing a risk assessment still apply
- In addition to all of the other matters that would normally be covered in a risk assessment, employers will need to specifically look at the risk created by Covid 19
- Independent consultants can be engaged to help carry out a risk assessment but employers must still consult their employees or trade unions when carrying out their risk assessment. It may be that employees will be able to identify certain hazards in carrying out their duties more easily than employers. Listen to your employees’ concerns
- Employers must: identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of coronavirus; think about who could be at risk; decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed; and act to remove the activity or situation, or if that’s not possible, control the risk
- Advice can also be sought from the Health & Safety Executive for NI
- The results of the risk assessment should be shared with employees
- Employees have a legal duty to their employer and other employees to follow instructions regarding safe working practices
- Communication between employer and employee is key. Make sure all employees understand what the risks are and the measures to be taken to deal with those risks
- Employers and employees/trade unions have a shared responsibility to work together to resolve concerns about safety in the workplace. If you don’t know how to deal with something – ask HSENI/independent safety expert/check with UK Government & local Government web sites
- Keep risk assessments under close review to ensure they are responsive to relaxations and tightening of restrictions
- If you have more than 50 employees you must publish the results of your risk assessment on your web site but you should consider publishing the results even if you have fewer than 50 employees
Communication with employees
- Larger employers should have a standing group to include both management and employees to anticipate and deal with Covid health & safety issues not just when the business re-opens but on a continuing basis.
- This group should meet either virtually or in a socially distanced compliant way on a regular basis.
- Owner/managers in smaller businesses should have similar regular discussions/meetings with employees
- Don’t forget that communication is a two way street
- Circulate safety messages regularly – use a combination of mobile technology such as WhatsApp and posters and other visual aids around the workplace
- Ensure employees know the symptoms of coronavirus and keep up to date with public health guidance
- Be alert to mental health issues
- Protect those at higher risk
- Consider how you communicate with those who for whom English is not their first language and others who may struggle with written and verbal communication
What to do if an employee has symptoms of coronavirus
- The employee should let their employer know immediately if they have any symptoms
- If symptoms come on at work the employee should go home immediately
- If the employee can’t leave immediately and where possible an isolation room should be designated and sanitised after each use in line with public health advice
Handwashing and cleaning
- Employers should ensure that there are sufficient handwashing facilities for all persons to be able to wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds and/or hand sanitiser
- Use signs and posters to increase awareness of good handwashing technique
- Handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitiser should be available at entrances/exits/restrooms/canteens etc
- Ensure regular cleaning of touch points e.g. door handles/lift buttons/computer touch screens etc
- Try to use pedal operated waste bins and automated hand sanitiser dispensers
- Minimise use of shared tools and where that is not possible ensure shared tools are cleaned between each user
Social distancing/Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- The 2-metre rule still applies but employers should keep themselves updated about any changes as there is some discussion in government about reducing this rule to 1 metre
- Use markings on floor and other areas to help employees to easily keep their distance
- If any working practices necessitate working closer together and social distancing cannot be achieved then other safety measures will be required such as PPE or protective screens, keep the number of people working at less than 2 metres apart to a minimum
- Reconfigure production lines and processes and common areas such as reception and canteens to allow space for social distancing
- Stagger start/finish times and lunch/tea breaks to reduce the number of employees in any one area for any period of time
- Keep staff rosters the same every day to minimise contact with other groups
- Avoid people working face to face eg by working back to back or side to side and 2 metres apart
- Conduct meetings virtually and where that is not possible ensure social distancing
- Non-essential travel should be avoided
- If travel can’t be avoided employees should travel alone
- If employees are required to use a vehicle with others, the same employees should always travel together, preferably with one in front and another in the back and ensure good ventilation
- Sanitise shared vehicles between shifts
- Social distancing should be practised in car parks and additional car parking spaces may be required
- If employees have no alternative to using public transport they should be advised to observe social distancing
- Movement around work premises and between sites should allow for social distancing e.g. one person at a time in lifts/entrances; corridors and stairways should be one way to avoid the risk of congestion
- Re-circulation of air should be avoided
- Contact your air conditioning and ventilation provider for guidance
Carry out and implement a Covid 19 specific risk assessment in addition to other risk assessments relevant to your business. The Health & Safety Executive for NI has produced a template risk assessment here: https://www.hseni.gov.uk/publications/example-covid-19-risk-assessment-template
Communicate with your employees.
Seek advice from government and public health bodies and independent advisers/consultants.
Keep up to date on revised government advice in response to further loosening or tightening of restrictions.
Please note that the measures listed in this article are not exhaustive and not a substitute for carrying out a site and business specific Covid 19 risk assessment. There will be additional measures required for different industries and business sectors. You should therefore seek specific advice relative to your own circumstances in order to ensure that your workplace is safe.
Angela Brady, principal at Brady Solicitors, Titanic Suites, 55-59 Adelaide Street, Belfast BT2 8FE
Angela is a solicitor and business owner of Brady Solicitors. She advises and represents companies being investigated or prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive for NI in addition to conducting commercial litigation.
More on Health & Safety
- Health and Safety Breaches Disclosure – How Do I Handle It?
- What do we do if an employee refuses to wear a mask while at work?
- Can we mandate that employees get the vaccination?
- An employee is refusing to return to work due to COVID-19 concerns - what do we need to consider?
- Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police v Town 
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.