“Covid Secure” practical workplace guidance for employers

The Covid Secure guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), covers workplaces that can re-open this week, as well as some the Government hopes will reopen on 1 June 2020:

  • Construction and outdoor work
  • Factories, plants and warehouses
  • Homes
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Offices and contact centres
  • Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
  • Shops and branches
  • Vehicles

The guidance relates to workplaces, rather than sectors. This means that a firm could have workers in several of these workplace categories and will need to take account of the guidance relating to each workplace category. For example, a construction business could have workers on a construction site, in vehicles, in other people’s homes and in offices.

DBEIS says that the key points underpinning the guidance in each type of workplace are:

1. Those who can work from home should continue to do so, but those who cannot should return to work.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been asked to shield should not return to work, but clinically vulnerable employees may do so if they cannot work from home. However, clinically vulnerable employees should be offered the safest roles available.

The guidance also reminds employers to be mindful of equality in the workplace and that they must not discriminate against anyone who has a protected characteristic, particularly highlighting responsibilities towards disabled workers and new or expectant mothers.

2. Employers should carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions.

The requirement to consult with employees means consulting the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or a representative chosen by workers where there is no recognised union.

3. Maintaining two metres social distancing, wherever possible.

Employers are advised to consider measures such as increasing the number of entry points to the building, staggering start and finish times and introducing one-way systems within buildings.

4. Managing transmission risk where people cannot be two metres apart.

The guidance says that where two-metre social distancing cannot be maintained, employers should consider whether that activity is necessary for the business to continue to operate. Where such an activity must go ahead, employers should consider the use of increased handwashing and surface cleaning, keeping activities as short as possible, using back-to-back or side-to-side working instead of face-to-face and using small fixed-teams to carry out such work.

The guidance recommends against the use of face-coverings in most non-clinical settings.

5. Reinforcing cleaning processes.

Employers should assess and clean workplaces before reopening. Once reopened, the guidance contains detailed advice on cleaning the workplace and ensuring effective hygiene at all times.

Businesses and organisations with more than 50 employees are expected to publish their risk assessments online, while all employers are expected to display a signed poster, which can be downloaded with the guidance here. This includes contact details for the Health and Safety Executive.

In some circumstances, bringing employees back into the workplace could create a risk of an employment dispute arising and so employers should seek advice to minimise the chances of a dispute arising.