As the Government begins to share its plans to ease the lockdown and reopen workplaces, it is clear that leadership, trust and careful planning will play a vital role in this critical next phase of COVID-19. An incremental approach will be necessary as we transition to a new ‘COVID-19 secure’ way of living and working.
To guide employers as they prepare to address the challenges ahead, the UK Government has produced guidelines which focus on five key steps:
work from home, if employees can;
carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with employees or trade unions;
maintain a two metre social distancing wherever possible;
where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk; and,
reinforce cleaning processes.
Each employer must undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment which will support the detailed planning required before workplaces reopen. The guidelines state that employers should share the results of their risk assessment with the workforce and there is an expectation that all businesses with over 50 employees publish it on their website.
Some employees may not want return to work due to health fears and, by involving any recognised unions or workers in risk assessment planning, and communicating openly with staff on measures adopted to safeguard their health, employers can build employee trust, ensure a smooth transition back to work and reduce the risk of any employees having lawful grounds to refuse a return to work.
The risk assessment would ensure that any proposed measures are first consulted upon with any trade union H&S representatives or workers and, once adopted, are applied reasonably, fairly and consistently and provide support and guidance for managers. The risk assessment is likely to cover:
training employees on protective behaviours and the use of any PPE;
undertaking regular H&S inspections;
social distancing rules;
instituting regular cleaning and encouraging frequent hand-washing;
avoiding or limiting business travel and in person meetings;
limiting employee and visitor numbers in the workplace;
guidance on the limited use of public transport;
staggering commuting times;
staggering shift/opening/break times;
considering arrangements for ‘queuing’ to enter premises;
reviewing the operation and use of refreshment areas, washrooms and other common areas;
instituting signage on social distancing and hygiene, etc (the ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines has extensive workplace examples).
In addition, the Government, in consultation with industry, has produced guidance to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible. These 8 guides cover a range of different types of work. Many businesses operate more than one type of workplace, such as an office, factory and fleet of vehicles. You may need to use more than one of these guides as you think through what you need to do to keep people safe.
Following the guidelines, addressing COVID-19 risks and communicating mitigating measures to employees will reduce the likelihood of any employee reasonably believing that returning to work places them in serious and imminent danger to their health.
Employers should plan how they will protect people who are at higher risk, such as disabled, vulnerable or shielding employees (or employees with such people in their household) and, for the duration of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), they may be eligible for, or should remain on, furlough leave.