The current advice from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Public Health England is:
- Businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible
- If you cannot work from home, then you can still travel to work. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer for England’s advice
- Workplaces need to avoid crowding and minimise opportunities for the virus to spread by maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres (3 steps) between individuals wherever possible, plus providing guidance on hygiene and frequent cleaning.
Managers and businesses owners should develop their stepwise return to work plans based on risk assessments starting with the above advice, but what does this mean in practical terms?
Business will already have risk assessments in place to deal with the common hazards encountered, which for an office environment might use these interactive tools available to support you from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The Coronavirus introduces new health risks to the employees and visitors to the workplace and therefore in accordance with Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 businesses will want to make “suitable and sufficient” assessments of these new risks and the mitigating actions that will be taken to address them. These risk assessments must be in writing if you have five or more employees and they must be reviewed or updated when the circumstances change.
This means the risk assessments that businesses undertook at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis will need to be reviewed and amended. This is in light of the changed knowledge and circumstances regarding Covid-19 that are being published by the Government and public health bodies, including the recently published “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines.
Details of what needs to be considered within risk assessments will depend on the organisation, the size of the workforce and complexity of the workplace. Unusually, a consideration of travel to and from work should also be considered, especially where employees may need to use public transport.
It is important to appreciate worker anxiety about a safe return to work and to consider the demographic of the workforce, their individual circumstances and vulnerabilities. The ACAS website and the TUC’s report on returning to work provide good insight into these considerations.
In practical terms the main hazards to be addressed within the risk assessments are the opportunities for passing the Covid-19 infection from one person to another. These opportunities are the potential for airborne infection from one employee to another or contact infection from shared surfaces or equipment. The risk assessment should look at each physical area within the workplace and record which mitigation actions are deemed necessary to address the identified risk. In our sector the primary mitigation measures are the strict implementation of 2m distancing, regular handwashing, restrictions on sharing equipment and regular cleaning of surfaces.
Where businesses determine that additional PPE is to be used, as a mitigating measure, the requirements under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 will apply. These obligations include that PPE must be appropriate for the risks and conditions involved, fitted correctly and must be assessed as suitable and effective, so far as is reasonably practicable, to prevent or adequately control the risk.
Employees must be given adequate information, instruction and training regarding PPE, which must also be maintained, cleaned and replaced as appropriate. All reasonable steps must also be taken to ensure that any PPE is properly used.
The CLC site operating guidelines provide good generic information about the mitigating actions which apply to sites in general. The TRA guide provides more targeted information for activities that all trussed rafter manufacturers will undertake.
For business owners there will be more difficult decisions to be made, but the guiding principle should always be ‘would it have been reasonably practicable to have done more’; if the answer is ‘yes’, then you should postpone operation until further mitigating actions can be put in place.
The Public Health advice for businesses in England is given here:
With further advice for specific sectors given here: