The Prime Minister has announced that with effect from 1 August 2020 employers will have the ability to require employees to return to their usual workplace, provided that it is safe for them to do so
As lockdown restrictions are eased and people start returning to the workplace, one of the main challenges for employers is how they can resume operations safely to avoid the spread of infection and the heightened risk that COVID-19 poses.
Employers should take their time to properly assess the risks, consult with their employees and implement the appropriate measures before re-opening the workplace to ensure it is as safe as possible for staff, customers, clients and any other visitors.
All employers have a statutory duty to provide a safe place of work and a general duty of care towards anyone who may be accessing their place of business. This involves carrying out suitable and sufficient risk assessments to identify potential risks and taking all reasonable and practical steps to remove or minimise those risks.
During the pandemic, and for as long as COVID-19 continues to pose a threat, special consideration will need to be given to the risk it poses. This includes thinking about who might be at risk, deciding how severe that risk is and determining the action that can be taken to remove, minimise and control it.
Although organisations will differ in how they operate post-lockdown, there will be some common changes across most businesses, including increased hand washing and cleaning facilities to ensure good hygiene practices and socially distancing workers to promote safe working.
Employers should undertake comprehensive risk assessments in good time in order to consider how best to approach reopening. Factors which should be considered include:
- Minimising staff numbers in the workplace
- Giving special consideration to staff with underlying health conditions which make them additionally vulnerable
- The layout of workplace buildings and departments
- Staff transport (both to/from work and during the working day)
- The provision of hand sanitiser and other cleaning facilities
- Any other relevant and reasonable protective measures.
As part of any risk assessment, employers will also need to consider social distancing within the workplace, such as:
- The physical flow of employees in the workplace
- Implementing a one-way system
- Rotating staff shifts and working days
- Home working where possible to reduce the number of employees on site
- Desk, office and seating arrangements, such as using protective screens to create a barrier
- Staggered start, finish and break times
- Number of staff allowed in communal areas at one time
- Social distancing measuring guidelines taped on the floor
- Visitor policies.
Government guidance is that employers with more than 50 employees should publish their risk assessments online and there is a legal requirement to have a written risk assessment for businesses with five or more employees.
It is also important for employers to communicate with their staff about their possible return to the workplace, listen to any concerns and deal with these accordingly. In some large businesses, consultation may need to take place through trade union or employee representatives.
Consultation should include:
- When staff might safely return to the workplace
- How staff will travel to and from work
- How health and safety is being reviewed and managed through risk assessments
- Any planned adjustments to the workplace
- A phased return of the workforce
- Working from home arrangements
A safe return to work has never been so important to get right. The risk to businesses of rushing their staff back to work without the right safeguarding measures in place could have serious consequences for both the financial recovery of the business and, more importantly, the physical and mental health of workers.
We will provide a further update once the government guidance is updated to reflect the new discretion employers will have from 1 August 2020.
For more information on making your business ‘COVID-secure’ please contact our Employment Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.