COVID-19 secure: for employers and others
29 July 2021
Responding to the threat of COVID-19 has presented significant challenges across society.
No one can underestimate the scale of these for us all in managing the risk from this virus. Making sure everyone remains safe, whilst ensuring the resilience of your organisation, requires unprecedented steps to achieve this.
Deciding how best to do this in your own particular circumstances is key. You have to do everything that is reasonably practicable to protect your staff and others given the risk presented. This means identifying workable precautions for your own organisation, whilst understanding you will not be able to eliminate the risk that the virus presents entirely.
Making workplaces COVID-Secure
To make your workplace COVID-secure, you will have to apply the relevant government guidance to your own particular circumstances. Similar information is available for the Devolved Administrations. Here, you will need to refer to the guidance for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as appropriate. All of this information remains under review, so it is important to keep up to date with the latest directions. You can follow developments and access the current advice by using the resources highlighted below.
In some cases, you may need to refer to more than one set of guidance to make sure you are doing all that is necessary.
COVID secure: getting started
In many cases, you will already have tried and tested arrangements in place to keep safe all those who work at, visit or use your premises. You will need to review these and your existing precautions before restarting work or where there are changes in local restrictions and guidance. This will be to check their adequacy given the risk presented by COVID-19 and in the light of the guidance published by the Government and Devolved Administrations. In nearly all cases, it is likely that you will have to continue with and monitor further precautions.
It is important to remember, that any additional precautions you identify should be proportionate. This will depend on your own specific circumstances. For example, reflecting the size or type of premises you occupy, the numbers of staff you have and the nature of the work activities involved. You may also need to think about how your premises are organised, operated, managed and regulated.
With all of this in mind, here are some points for you to consider. Some may be more relevant to you than others and the list is not exhaustive.
- If you have appointed someone to help you with your health and safety obligations, work with them to review your arrangements and precautions to make sure they are adequate in the light of the guidance issued. This should reflect any responsibilities you may have under health and safety law, along with any commitments you have made in your health and safety policy if you have prepared one.
- If you need to complete risk assessments to meet your responsibilities under health and safety law, you must review these. This is to make sure that they are valid and have identified any additional precautions you need to take to deal with the risk of COVID-19. In some cases you may choose to complete a specific risk assessment. You should use the guidance or other trusted information to inform your decisions about the adequacy of your existing precautions and others that might be necessary. Once complete, you should share the results of your risk assessment with your staff. You should also consider publishing it on your website if you have one. There is an expectation that all employers having more than 50 workers will do this.
- You may need to review other, more specific risk assessments that you have made to comply with legal obligations. An example would be your fire risk assessment. This would be in the light of any changes you have made to your premises, its layout or work activities that may have a bearing on them.
- You must make sure that your staff are appropriately consulted on managing the risk from COVID-19, including any precautions to be taken. This may be through established channels you have already set up, including those required to meet any legal obligations you may have. Further guidance on consulting and involving your staff is available here. There is also guidance about talking to your workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
- As part of your risk assessment and staff consultation, you should determine how best to operate your workplace safely. This may take account of staff journeys, caring responsibilities, protected characteristics, and other individual circumstances. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk. Working from home still remains one option to prevent the risk of virus transmission, although ensuring premises are COVID-Secure will also do this. You will need to treat staff equally and not discriminate against them. You will also have particular responsibilities towards disabled workers and new or expectant mothers.
- Where staff continue to work from home, you will need to provide any necessary equipment, keep in touch with them and monitor their wellbeing.
- Where staff are using public transport, it is vital they continue to follow the latest guidance on travelling safely in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This includes avoiding peak times where possible, wearing a face covering where directed unless exempt.
- Making sure that anyone who is self-isolating, including those asked to do so under the test and trace service, do not physically come to work.
- You should implement suitable precautions in-line with the guidance set out by the government or other trusted sources e.g. recognised trade body.
In general, common precautions may include those necessary to:
- ensure good standards of hygiene – by providing adequate washing facilities or the provision of hand sanitiser. You may need to provide hand sanitiser in multiple locations. You should also display signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique
- make sure premises, equipment and vehicles remain clean – before reopening and in general use thereafter, including any toilets, washing facilities, showers and changing rooms along with suitable waste disposal arrangements
- make sure adequate ventilation is provided – further guidance is available here
- re-organise work – to reduce the number of contacts each employee has, for example through introducing shifts or staggering work activities; avoiding unnecessary work travel and keeping staff safe when they need to do this; protecting peripatetic staff or dealing with high absence rates
- minimise the number of unnecessary visits to premises – from customers, visitors and contractors and to make sure that people understand what safety precautions are needed whilst on-site
- provide support for staff – who may be anxious about returning to work; self-isolating or shielding others; returning to work after being ill with COVID-19 themselves; or for those managing others so that they are clear on procedures for dealing with things like sickness reporting, sick pay or someone who is taken ill at work.
If you share your workplaces with other employers, you may need to cooperate with them to make sure adequate precautions are in place to protect all.
- As regards the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), the guidance makes it clear that using additional equipment beyond what is normally worn is not beneficial. The exception to this is in a clinical setting, like a care home or for first responders, where different rules apply. Outside these settings, employers are advised not to promote the use of additional PPE and their risk assessment should reflect this.
- Beyond the use of PPE, there are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be beneficial as a precaution. The guidance sets out additional information on this for each setting.
- You must check that your first-aid arrangements and facilities continue to be adequate for the correct emergency response. This will include if someone is taken ill with COVID-19 at work. You may need to review your formal assessment if you need to complete one. Information on what to do if first-aid cover is reduced is available here along with further information for first-aiders on providing a response. You will need to make sure that contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date. In the event of an accident, your existing arrangements for recording and investigating these should apply. For those more serious, you may need to report them and keep certain records. Clarification on what needs to be reported in relation to COVID-19 is available here.
- You must provide any additional training and information for staff to make sure they know how to work safely and protect others against COVID-19. This may include detail about social distancing precautions, personal hygiene or the use of PPE for example. It may also set out details for following Government guidance on self-isolation and travelling to work as well as your arrangements for returning to work following illness with COVID-19. You should keep records of any information or training you provide. These should contain detail relating to the persons who were trained (including their signatures to say that they have received and understood the training); when they were trained and by whom; an overview of the training that was provided etc. In addition to this, you may want to keep staff up to date with how safety measures are being implemented or updated over time.
- If your premises have been shut for a period of time, you may want to inspect them to ensure that they remain in good condition. This will include checking that all utilities, water systems, work and emergency equipment (such as, fire-fighting or fire detection equipment), ventilation systems, access routes including any emergency routes or exits etc. remain serviceable. You may also want to check that there are no accumulations of waste, stock etc. that could present an additional hazard. Obviously, before re-opening your premises you will want to complete any necessary workplace adaptations identified by your risk assessment. You will also want to carry out any required cleaning. In some cases, you may want to consider resuming work at your premises in stages to help with this. Whatever the case, you will need to make sure that staff know about any changes and the additional precautions to be taken before they start work.
- In starting up any equipment, such as heating plant, you should make sure that this is done safely following any necessary procedures. You should also make sure that any statutory inspections of equipment are up to date or that appropriate action is being taken. Further information on carrying out thorough examination and testing of lifting and pressure equipment during the coronavirus outbreak is available here.
- You should carry out any necessary periodic checks to ensure that the precautions you have taken remain effective and adequate. This may include simple inspections to check that the premises and any equipment is safe. If you have completed risk assessments, these will help you identify where these checks will be necessary.
- If you have prepared a written health and safety policy, update it to reflect any changes to your arrangements for managing the risk from COVID-19.
- Your risk assessment should include or refer to an up-to-date outbreak management plan. This will include detail relating to the single point of contact and arrangements for contacting Local Authority public health teams where positive cases are identified in your workplace as well as those necessary for identifying close workplace contacts.
- In the event of a claim, evidence of what you have done to manage any risk may be important. As such, you should keep evidence as you apply the guidance to be able to demonstrate your decision making process and what you have done to manage the risks identified. This may include specific health and safety documents, such as risk assessments; records of maintenance, inspections and other checks; records of information and training provided; policy etc. These records should be kept in-line with your document retention policy.
- As things start to normalise, you may want to review any business continuity plans you have in place. You may be able to learn from your recent experiences to develop contingencies further to deal with any shutdown and start-up events in the future. If you don’t have a business continuity plan already, we have developed some guidance that may be of use to you.
COVID secure: keeping up-to-date
As we collectively learn more about the virus and its control, official guidance is frequently changing. You will want to keep up to date as it does, to make sure the precautions you have in place adequately protect people.
You can check for updates at www.gov.uk/workingsafely.
This includes general advice and the specific guidance for particular workplaces:
Information and support are available here.
The Health and Safety Executive
This includes general advice and specific guidance: