Employers are facing pressures from all sides. They are currently having to balance:

  • The Government urging us to return to work
  • Rising levels of coronavirus infection
  • Employees keen to return to the workplace
  • Employees keen to remain working from home
  • Commercial pressure from stakeholders
  • Meeting customers’ needs and expectations

All of these are pulling in different directions, but somehow every employer has to establish how work can continue to be done safely. Especially in the face of seemingly random outbreaks and local and regional lockdowns.

An excellent article and guide from the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) was recently published. It supplements much of the advice that is already being given, but laying it out in clear language, with a very practical, balanced approach to safety.

Responding to Resurgences and Local Lockdowns

It points out that the virus exploits weaknesses in controls and safeguards, as well as human behaviours at home and at work. And, just as it seems to subside, people start to relax and it surges again. Restrictions are eased and then imposed again without much warning.

So, it is essential to remain vigilant, agile and disciplined in how you manage your own workplace.

Using the HSE’s recommended health & safety management system of plan–do–check–act approach, employers need to control risk with strong leadership, worker involvement and sound health and safety advice – to ensure safe people, workplace, systems and equipment.

Many employers rushed into control measures, and they probably got it mostly right, but it is worthwhile to consult employees; not just because it is a legal obligation, but also because it is good practice and more likely to result in commitment to adherence, if it is something they have been involved in.

It is a useful reminder of how we can continue to operate safely in an uncertain world, as this virus seems set to be with us for some time.

The Peltzman Effect

We have also had calls from clients frustrated, as they feel that they have put in all sorts of (often expensive) measures to keep people safe, yet some are not following basic instructions on, e.g. social distancing, so in effect are taking risks.

Risk assessments invariably break down when it comes to human behaviour because we base our risk assessments on a logical process which we then expect less than completely logical people to comply with.

Another IOSH discussion has been over why people take more risks after risk assessments are completed and communicated out, which sounds illogical but can often be true.  The answer is not to stop doing risk assessments, but to understand why some people react against it.

The Peltzman Effect is a theory which states that people are more likely to engage in risky behaviour when security measures have been mandated. Sam Peltzman is an economist, he noted that the more safety was mandated in cars, e.g. mandatory seat belts, the more unsafe behaviours people performed in cars.

In other words, the safer people feel, the more risk that they may decide to take. This could explain why the ‘R’ rate is once again on the increase, in spite of the fact that the Government has kept imposing various restrictions, most recently the rule of six.

The key word is ‘mandated’. People then see safety as something that is being done to them, and they have little or no control over it. The more they feel this, the more likely it is that they could be tempted to ignore the mandated rule(s).

Plan-do-check

So, how do employers overcome this?  The key, as always, is about strong two-way communication so that safety is not seen as being done ‘to’ people, but ‘with’ people.

So, when considering a plan-do-check-act approach, make sure that you talk to your people. Take on board their opinions so that, the risk assessment and safe working systems that you ask people to follow they will feel involved with. And, will be more likely to engage with and undertake them in practice.

 

 

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

The Government, the HSE and the media have reminded us that worker safety is of paramount importance to employers.

Four months after the main lockdown the HSE has finally published proper guidance on Covid 19 risk assessments. Better late than never I suppose. However, it is after a lot of sector specific Government safe working guidance has already been circulated together with what Trade Bodies and Professional Associations have provided for their members.  Therefore, I’m not sure that the HSE’s procrastination is an adequate defence if you get your own risk assessment wrong, or fail to produce one in time.

Nevertheless, there are a number of things highlighted in this guide, which can be accessed at http://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/assets/docs/risk-assessment.pdf that are worth mentioning.

Hand washing. Something that science confirms is hugely important and should be enforced at every opportunity in the workplace.

Consulting the workforce. Many employers before the pandemic may have paid lip service to this requirement. But with their workers probably even more concerned than their employers, consultation has become important, and employees are taking it seriously.

Remote working. Something we have all become used to, and may well become a permanent part of the working landscape. Working from home is still necessary and using online meetings is seen as an effective way of holding meetings, avoiding too many people in the same place.

Social distancing. Whether it is a full 2 metres, or something less, this is a term that did not even exist at the start of this year. Now it is a cornerstone of every workplace risk assessment.

Ventilation. Probably one of the most important measures after social distancing. The science is reinforcing how important this can be. And how at times it may conflict with things like fire safety. Should you open or close fire doors?

Musculoskeletal disorders. Employers need to be aware of the increasing risk of musculoskeletal disorders arising from  lengthy DSE use at home. The HSE maintains that ‘there is no increased risk for people working at home temporarily’ but this pandemic is now seriously questioning our attitude towards what ‘temporarily’ really means

Well-being and mental health. Without regular social interaction, working remotely can become lonely, with unregulated working hours, lack of communication on what else is going on within the organisation, this can all create increasing anxiety which is detrimental to health. Equally, employees working in an environment where there is a heightened risk of infection is equally damaging.

Protecting the vulnerable. This has been a keystone of most employer’s, and indeed the Government’s, policy since the start. Some employees with medical conditions, from different ethnic backgrounds and different age groups are more or less vulnerable to infection. Recognising and protecting the most vulnerable is essential, as is individual consultations with those who feel they need to be protected.

Outside work. Almost for the first time, employers have been responsible for at least considering how their employees travel to work. Employees also are beginning to realise they have a responsibility to protect their colleagues by behaving responsibly outside the workplace.

The guidance is light on things like PPE, which, as we have said before, is very much the last line of defence in terms of mitigation if proper social distancing cannot be maintained. Indeed, Government advice still stresses very strongly that proper, medical grade PPE should not be used except in appropriate environments, so as not to deprive the appropriate services of essential supplies.

Facemasks are not recommended in general, though employers are urged to support workers who wish to wear them on a voluntary basis. And they are also urged to instruct them on their proper, safe usage.

We would recommend that all employers check their own COID-19 risk assessments against all of the factors that the HSE have stated should be included just to make sure that you have covered off all of the aspects the HSE identifies need to be considered.

In another publication by the HSE, they have reported that there have been over 8000 reports of occupational infection of Covid 19, resulting in 119 work related deaths.

While these at first seem shocking figures, 75% of these have happened in the health care and care home sectors. In other words, with those who work directly, and at close quarters, with those who may be affected.

The regulating bodies of the HSE and Local Authority Environmental Health Officers, EHO, are undertaking targeted COVID compliance spot checks after a spate of localised outbreaks making sure that employers are aware of the Safer Workplace guidance and advising where necessary on improvements needed to ensure the workplace is COVID secure.

Some of the most common issues that HSE and local authority inspectors are finding include: –

  • failing to provide arrangements for monitoring, supervising and maintaining social distancing
  • failing to introduce an adequate cleaning regime – particularly at busy times of the day
  • failing to provide access to welfare facilities to allow employees to frequently wash their hands with warm water and soap

The HSE It warns that where some employers are not managing the risk, inspectors will provide specific advice, issue enforcement notices, stop certain work practices until they are made safe and, where businesses fail to comply, prosecute.

 

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

As the Government issues detailed guidance to schools, restaurants and other organisations that are reopening, our clients have presented us with a number of issues.

One in particular seems to recur. Who do organisations have a primary duty to protect under health and safety law, and how they go about achieving that? Naturally, many of them are interpreting their primary responsibilities as being to their staff and those that they provide a service to, be that customers, guests or pupils.

As a consequence, third party workers such as contractors, delivery drivers and others are having special conditions imposed upon them, particularly that they are not able to use washing and toilet facilities on site, or access to drinking water.

We are having to point out that, while they may feel their primary responsibility is to “their own”, and people paying them for their good/services, they have to look after and provide facilities for all visitors and workers to their sites.

Here is some wording from recent Government guidance (and the crucial words here are “and others”):

“All employers are required by law to protect their employees, and others, from harm. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum employers must do is:

  • identify what could cause injury or illness in the organisation (hazards)
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk”

Delivery drivers have been a particular problem for some organisations, especially where they take in an enormous number of goods. The constant to-ing and fro-ing of drivers means that staff are, not unnaturally, concerned that this increases the risk of coronavirus transmission. There are specific regulations which require organisations to provide facilities for delivery drivers, and current difficulties do not give an excuse to treat them unfairly/illegally.

So, in these circumstances, we have suggested that clients either:

  • Designate one facility for the sole use of drivers, subcontractors and other visitors
  • Temporarily install a facility solely for their use (such as a Portaloo), although these must include washbasins
  • Or have a proper social distancing management policy in place for those who wish to use the facilities on site

These facilities must also be thoroughly and regularly cleaned.

Clients organisations and employers must not forget that their health and safety responsibilities extend beyond their organisation at times, and have to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that visitors and other workers to their site have access to proper facilities.

What about visits to other sites?

The more difficult problem is for organisations whose employees visit other sites, such as schools, factories and other workplaces. Their staff often find themselves met with a brick wall of resistance, and a refusal to allow access to some basic welfare facilities.

This is a management issue, and it is essential that organisations get acceptance from the sites they visit that there is fair access.

In circumstances where this is being refused, your own staff need to have clear directions on how to proceed, and how to escalate the matter. Your management needs to be very clear on how to communicate with these locations to solve the problem.

The law is covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, and is best explained in the accompanying Approved Code of Practice which requires the provision of suitable and sufficient welfare, and specifically sanitary facilities, at readily accessible places. The Regs go on to provide for the number of cubicles and washbasins depending on the number of people at work. The use of the word ‘people’ is deliberate as it covers all contractors, suppliers, agency staff as well as customers, end users and visitors.

There is also an Approved Document G Sanitation, Hot Water Safety and Water Efficiency. Further guidance is provided in British Standard 6465, which suggests that “staff in permanent stationary workplaces in buildings should not have to walk more than 100 metres, or travel up or down more than one floor to use the sanitary facilities”.

The Workplace Regulations require that everyone using the workplace must have their needs considered as part of the Workplace risk assessment.  These needs now extend to forming part of your COVID-19 Workplace risk assessment as well.

We are all learning as we move through this Covid 19 pandemic, that the health, safety and welfare of all employees in all situations is paramount, but others are affected too and permitting their access to the appropriate facilities and protections is also essential.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

With some non-essential retailers already returning to work, including places like car dealerships, it seems we are poised for another spate of re-openings over the coming weeks. The High Street will be opening up much more on 15th June, as many shops are able to reopen their doors, and there are strong indications that by 4th July pubs and restaurants may be able to open in some way.

There are a couple of very useful, free to download guides produced by the BSI and IOSH. For those of you who were not familiar with their work, IOSH is really the Institute for Health and Safety Consultants, but because that didn’t sound quite right, they have named it the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

The risk assessment guide from IOSH includes this particularly helpful graphic, and some very good advice on how to apply it. We have already written a couple of articles on creating a Covid Secure workplace, and Managing the Return to Work, this article in particular is a useful addition to it.

Understanding how to carry out risk assessments is crucial if you are to manage this very difficult disease in your workplace. Doing this correctly will protect both your workers and yourself. Identifying each risk and area of risk, and mitigating it properly through a staged response is vital.

In the BSI document, called Safe Working During the Covid 19 Pandemic, there are some very useful definitions and they share some of the best practices. It is keen to point out that it is not a guide to risk assessments, but it lays out some very good principles.

As you would expect from an institution that is extremely good at specifying standards and defining them very tightly, they are very careful about the words they use, and how they should be applied.

So, for instance, early on in the document they tell the reader that the following verbal forms are used in the following way:

  • “Should” indicates a recommendation
  • “May” indicates a permission
  • “Can” indicates a possibility or a capability.

Why is this important? Because such an approach much more tightly defines what until now look fairly loosely worded paragraphs. A bit like the legal definitions in a contract.

Later on, in their introduction, they say that they have used what the HSE recommend when developing a health and safety management system, a Plan – Do – Check – Act approach. Again, they define this quite closely:

  • Plan what needs to be done for the organisation to work safely
  • Do what the organisation has planned to do
  • Check to see how well it is working
  • Act to fix problems and look for ways to make what the organisation is doing even more effective.

Not a bad way of proceeding in the current climate to make sure that you protect your workforce, protect the organisation, and to demonstrate that you are taking safety and the risk of Covid 19 infection seriously.

Other areas that we particularly liked were clear definitions of the Clinically Vulnerable and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable in Section 3, Terms and Definitions.

The guide considers external issues that affect your workforce, such as methods of transport to work, which are not normally part of an employers’ concerns, but because of the pandemic are now very definitely fixed in their sights. It outlines very effectively how owners, Managers and other decision-makers should demonstrate leadership. And how they can encourage worker participation through communication, and opening ways for those with concerns and whistle-blowers to talk to Senior Management.

Categorise Work

For any organisations that are considering whether workers should return to the workplace, it suggests that organisations should divide work activities into three categories: 

  • can be done from home;
  • cannot be done from home, but can comply with social distancing guidelines in the workplace, if practical adjustments are made;
  • cannot be done from home and cannot comply with social distancing guidelines in the workplace;

In the latter category, employers must ask whether such an activity is essential for the operation of the organisation – it may only take place if additional controls (often PPE as the last resort) are implemented to mitigate the risks to health, safety and wellbeing at work.

Again, emphasising the principle of all health and safety legislation, it points out that it is not possible to eliminate the risks to Covid 19 entirely. But planning should aim to ensure the risk to workers is reduced to the “lowest reasonably practicable level”.

And, employers should make note of this, and communicate this clearly to their employees. No activity is 100% safe. Working from home, for instance, might be more dangerous for the workforce in the long run, as remaining static at home is not good for health. It certainly increases the risk of certain types of illness through physical inactivity.

But the employer’s job is to recognise control and mitigate the risk, making sure that their workers are protected as best they can.

Finally, and it is something that is often overlooked when planning, what happens in emergencies other than Covid 19? For instance, if there is a fire, clearly, especially in the case of panic, social distancing cannot be guaranteed. However, the need to evacuate the building quickly will almost certainly outweigh the risk from coronavirus.

Similarly, you may have to practice fire drills with a smaller workforce, and indeed make sure you plan carefully so that there is sufficient first-aid cover in the organisation, and that first aiders are trained in what needs to be done in the current circumstances.

RIDDOR

Both guides are excellent; however, we do take issue with the BSI in terms of one small but highly significant point. In section 10, they talk about the employer’s duty to report coronavirus under RIDDOR.

Coronavirus was legislated in March to be a notifiable disease, but the HSE has made it extremely clear that serious incidents need reporting where coronavirus is part of the occupation, rather than incidental to it.

What does that mean? The HSE website gives very clear guidance on the examples, of where an incident is reportable and where it is not. So, infections in the workforce are not reportable (though a widespread COVID-19 infection within a working team for instance may be classed as a RIDDOR dangerous occurrence and should also be reported to your local authority, who can give proper support and direction). But, where a worker works directly with coronavirus, for instance in a laboratory, the dropping of a vial of coronavirus and its escape into the environment is reportable.

A policeman contracting coronavirus by contact with the general public is not. There is also a very high level of proof required to identify that the coronavirus has been contracted at work, and not anywhere else.

This is not the impression given by the BSI, and we disagree with their guidance in this part of the guide.

Otherwise, both documents are excellent documents and well worth reading.  The links to these documents are as follows:-

IOSH:  Returning safely – Covid-19 Risk Assessment Guidance

BSI:    COVID-19 | Guidelines

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

As we reported yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s roadmap to exiting lockdown, ‘Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy’ on Sunday. A scheme to return us to normality, if that is ever possible.

He further clarified during his Monday evening briefing, that this is not designed to produce a rush of workers returning to their workplaces, but more of a series of “baby steps” to get the economy back up and running. He also stressed that employees should talk to their employers about returning. We would add that it is equally important that you initiate conversations about returning, or not returning because they are not currently needed.

A very important plank of this programme is ensuring that workers are safe in their working environment. And, that employers take the necessary steps to minimise any risk of spreading Covid-19 among their workforce.

So, we have been busy digesting the 50-page strategy document from Sunday, the accompanying Q&A and other publications. Last night, we got our first glimpse of the Covid-19 Secure Guidelines for sectors of the economy that the Government wants to come back to work.

Our first impressions are that these are very comprehensive and sensible. They have been drawn up with input and the agreement of business leaders, the HSE and unions.

Details of each of these can be found at the following links, for those who work in the respective sector or working environment.

It is important to point out that, for some organisations there will be crossovers. Life is never neat enough to have all of your workforce in just one category. So, if you feel that you don’t quite fit, study the two, three or four Guides that most closely fit your workplace.

A considerable amount of the content of each Guide will apply across all sectors, while some of the advice is specific to one or more environments, but does not apply in others. And, recognise the Government’s key message that employees should work at home if at all possible.

Their logic is simple, less social interaction reduces the spread of the disease. Less travel to work allows more space for those who have to travel and have no alternative.

Risk Assessment

The first, and most important consideration, is that every employer, however large or small, needs to do a Covid-19 risk assessment. For many, this will be a review of your current workplace risk assessment, a legal requirement which you should have already done. For some, it might be simpler to do a separate risk assessment, and for others, it might be the first time they have ever attempted such a document.

Whatever happens, you must understand that this risk assessment will be a crucial document. In the event that there is ever a claim against you, the quality of this document, and your ability to demonstrate that you have followed it to the letter, will be very important.

Health and Safety Representatives and Committees

If you have a health and safety committee, then you must consult on this risk assessment with them. And for workforces larger than 50 workers, employers must liaise with health and safety representatives.

Health and safety representatives will be crucial in this. So, not only should your initial Covid-19 risk assessment be shared with them, so should the identity of regular breakers of your protocol, so that corrective actions can be taken.

If your workforce numbers over 50, and there are no safety representatives in your organisation, then you had better ask for at least one volunteer, or you could ask for a volunteer safety representative from each of your key business activities. Please note, you are not able to simply appoint health and safety representatives, they must be suggestions from within your workforce themselves. Whilst you should avoid scaring them with ‘responsibilities’, you should seek to make the most of their experience and common sense.

Employers will need to continually monitor health and safety, making sure that workers are complying with their requirements to maintain a safe workplace, especially if you are gradually phasing people back from furlough to work.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is the first key principle in every part of every Guide. Keeping workers, customers, contractors and suppliers at a minimum of 2m, wherever possible, is essential.

Working out within the workplace how people can safely enter and exit, pass through pressure points, and share communal areas/equipment/facilities is as important as how they can safely work alongside each other.

Where social distancing is not possible, it is important that employers highlight this risk, and show what mitigating actions they have taken to reduce risk when this happens. Typically, such actions might include:

  • Increasing hand washing and cleaning in such areas;
  • Making activities where people are in close contact as short as possible;
  • Erecting screens and barriers to separate people;
  • Asking people to work back-to-back or side to side, rather than face-to-face;
  • Working in fixed teams or partnering, to stop the spread within the organisation if close contact cannot be avoided;

Each Secure Guidelines document, which, do not forget, has been drawn up with both business leaders and trade union officials, emphasises the importance of social distancing.

At work, where possible, setting up a one-way system for travel around the workplace is desirable, like we are already used to in some supermarkets. Marking out the workplace in 2m squares gives clarity, having a separate entry and exit point reduces pinch points.

Meetings

The placement of workstations and the screening between them makes work much safer. But employers should also be asking themselves how meetings can be safely held?

  • Are they strictly necessary?
  • Do they have to be in one room, or can they be outside?
  • Can they be done better via video-conferencing?
  • When they have to be held:
    • How long should those meetings be?
    • What preparatory work can be done before?
    • What is the follow-up work that does not have to be done in the meeting itself?

Common Areas

Particular attention needs to be made to exit and entry points, but also to reception areas, serving counters, toilets, canteens and communal meeting areas.

How many people, especially customers, are allowed in these areas at one time? How can they be separated? Is there enough hand sanitising around if there are no hand washing facilities?

Organisations have to manage visitors, customers and contractors. Do you have a formal visitor booking in procedure? Does the visitor have to fill this out themselves, can they use their own pen, or can you fill it out for them?

Travel to Work

Although for many employers, travel to work was not their problem before, now it is at least a consideration.

How can you mitigate the dangers of travelling on public transport, and arriving and leaving work? Can you make it easier to store bikes? Is walking to work a serious alternative? Are employees travelling together in company vehicles? Is there sufficient parking?

Washing and Cleaning

It is clear that hand washing and cleaning of surfaces is fundamental to safely working in this pandemic. Identifying surfaces that get touched regularly by many people is vital, as is putting in a cleaning routine to make sure the surfaces are safe.  Getting your workers to take personal responsibility for cleaning shared surfaces after they have used them is key to this.

Likewise, and this is a message that we have heard from the start of this pandemic, providing enough hand washing facilities, enough instruction about regular hand washing and, where that is not possible, providing hand sanitisers will also be very important.

Split your Workforce

Not only should employers split their workforce and potentially, especially when they are working in close proximity, establish fixed teams or partnerships, but they should also identify clearly those who can work at home, for instance office and accounts staff, compared to those who have to be at work.

Clearly, some workers may be able to spend three or four days at home, working, before they need to go to the office to perform certain functions or actions. Others might be able to split their day, and work before or after travelling to work, to reduce their exposure on the transport system, by travelling at other times, and by carrying out work at home where possible.

When considering those who can work at home, consideration must be given to those higher risk categories of workers, the extremely vulnerable and the vulnerable. Employers are also requested now to consider others at home living with your employees, especially the extremely vulnerable. Avoiding putting them at risk is viewed as important.

Do not Assume and Communicate

And, it is also easy to assume that certain groups would prefer to be on furlough, or be working from home. You might assume this of the disabled for instance, when in fact, they are not in a high-risk group and actively want to work.

The message is, clearly communicate with your workforce and find out what each of them feel they are capable of doing, and what they want to do.

Conversations with all parts of your workforce are needed. Whether it is those who are reluctant to turn return to work, those who feel vulnerable, or those who are running out of money and really want to return to work.

The Government has stressed that it expects employers to take socially responsible decisions with regards to its workforce. They are thinking in particular of employees with childcare responsibilities who cannot make alternative arrangements (like grandparents), without breaching social distancing rules.

Cleaning

Each Guide states that businesses that have been closed for some time will need a deep cleaning before reopening.

Your risk assessment should consider how frequently you clean shared areas, and shared surfaces. The clear implication is that this frequency should be sufficient to ensure minimal spread of the virus.

How often do you remove waste? If you used to do it every week, should that now be every day or even every hour?

And, while hand washing, sanitising and cleaning are clearly essential, and where you have goods inwards and outwards, what are your cleaning procedures there?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Government guidance is very specific. Personal protective equipment is only required in specific areas, mainly in health and social care, where the disease is more prevalent and social distancing is not possible.

The Government has made it clear that personal protective equipment outside these environments is not generally necessary. Nor do they wish to encourage it when it might take vital equipment away from where it is needed for front line workers.

They particularly talk about face coverings on, which they have been ambivalent from the start. There may be places, for example on public transport, where social distancing cannot be reduced and face covering may play a limited role.

But, for the majority of workers, face coverings are optional. Where employees want to wear such face coverings, they should provide their own, unless your risk assessment has identified it as being necessary, in which case you must provide and pay for it. However, employers should educate workers on the right protocol to use them. As they argue that face coverings worn incorrectly or removed incorrectly are more of a danger than no face covering at all.

Shift Patterns

Staggering the workforce, potentially reducing the workforce that is present by half while maintaining productivity, involves staggering shifts.

The recommendation in each of the Guidelines is that these shifts, once established, should be kept together. Mixing the shifts will increase the risk of spread between the shifts.

Staggering start times reduces congestion at entry and exit points. Alternating shifts reduces presence in the workplace.

Moving to double shifts may be the only alternative for some employers, who would otherwise have to make redundancies to halve their workforce. Especially when the Government’s support ends.

These messages need to be clearly communicated to the workforce.

Communication

Communication is vital in such times. Both to allay workers fears about returning, and to train them in the new way of working.

Things post coronavirus will not be the same as before. They have suggested holding a mini induction programme for returning workers, and a refresher course for current workers. This is relevant for workers who might be about to see a sudden influx into what had not been a crowded workplace.

Each Guide contains a number of posters that can be reproduced, and signage that can be used in the workplace.

It is the Employers’ Responsibility

Each of these Guides is very detailed, even if they are rather repetitive, if you read all of them.

We cannot emphasise enough that the responsibility for assessing the risk to your workforce, and the responsibility for ensuring that all risks are monitored and reported on, lies with the employer. And every workplace will have a different set of considerations. So, while we can provide you with a generic template to start from, you must carry out these risk assessments yourself.

You may not fall neatly into one sector or another, in which case, we suggest you read the bits that change between two or three different sectors, while studying in depth the sector that most closely matches your own.

If you need any help in getting started, let us know.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

For all those first aiders out there, St John’s Ambulance has just issued new guidance this week on first-aid.

The emphasis is on the first-aider, as well as the patient. Keeping up to date with information, keeping themselves safe and protecting their own situation are now more important than ever.

Full details can be found here, but importantly their CPR advice now includes very strict guidance that the “kiss of life” as it is colloquially known, or rather more accurately Rescue Breaths, are now too dangerous to carry out under Covid-19. They suggest covering the victim’s face or mouth and nose with a towel, calling for help and carrying out other CPR measures until an ambulance arrives.

Their advice for all first aiders is summed up as:

  • Be aware of the risks to yourself and others
  • Keep yourself safe
  • Give early treatment
  • Keep yourself informed and updated
  • Remember your own needs

In the current climate with the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic, these skills become even more important. They then go on to advise how to apply these skills when managing a first aid incident.

The advice urges all first aiders to observe social distancing and safety measures, while nevertheless balancing the risk with the need to resuscitate a patient that may be in trouble from a heart, or breathing problem.

Handwashing with soap and water, or alcoholic gel are urged before and after any contact with the patient, in line with all current guidelines on keeping ourselves safe.

Sadly, their very excellent poster has not been updated, so it is inadvisable to use it.

Their advice does not go into detail on other minor first aid treatments, such as bandaging or removing a foreign object from an eye, all of which is hard to do with current social distancing rules.  So, review the normal type and frequency of first aid activities that you have.  If first aid support is regularly required, then extra PPE should probably be issued out to your first aiders to wear to give them the confidence and reassurance to want to continue offering their services.  It is probably best not to force a person to continue being a first aider if they would prefer not to, during the current pandemic as these are almost always voluntary roles.

The HSE has announced COVID-19 revisions

If there are fewer people coming into your workplace, it may still be safe to operate with reduced first aid cover. You could also stop higher risk activities, and the HSE suggest you could consider sharing first aid cover with another business, providing there is a good exchange of the type of first aid requirements each site may need. 

First aid certificate extensions

If your employees hold a first aid certificate that expires on or after 16 March 2020, and cannot access requalification training because of coronavirus, you may qualify for a 3-month extension. This applies to:

  • Offshore Medic (OM)
  • Offshore First Aid (OFA)
  • First Aid at Work (FAW)
  • Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW)

To qualify for the extension, employers must be able to explain why their employees have not been able to requalify, and demonstrate what steps you have taken to access training for them, if asked to do so. 

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

Experts reckon that an interesting body of law is going to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to this, cases arising from employees who felt they had been harshly treated when they had refused to work, because of their perceived danger of doing so, were pretty rare.

Likewise, cases where employers were held to have treated employees unfairly were limited to just a few high-profile tribunal decisions.

We are fairly certain this is about to change. Because until now, dangerous workplaces were fairly well identified, and there were very strict procedures in place to manage the risk. And, there were employees who were judged, by and large, to understand the risks they were taking.

The problem is that it takes an extraordinary situation to produce difficult cases. Many employers may not like the results of judges’ deliberations.

The crucial piece of legislation is the Employment Rights Act from 1996. It  has been around a long time, and lays out the actions that workers can take if they believe they are in “serious or imminent” danger at work.

The Government has already stated that coronavirus poses a “serious and imminent” danger to public health. It will, therefore, not be too much of a stretch for Tribunals to rule that any workplace where social distancing and appropriate measures are not fully complied with, would present a serious and imminent danger to an employee.

And crucially, it is not whether the employer deems the danger to be serious and imminent, but whether the employee believes it is. This presents employers with a real challenge, because if they are to protect themselves, they need to be able to demonstrate that the employee was unreasonable in their belief that there was a danger, something that could be quite hard to do.

Once an employee has decided reasonably that under these terms the workplace is an unsafe place to be, there are a range of appropriate measures they can take. They could leave work, they could refuse to attend work, or they could take appropriate action to mitigate the danger themselves.

And by taking such action, the law lays down that they can neither be dismissed or suffer any detriment because of the action they have taken, providing it is appropriate.

What does this mean?

Obviously, it depends on the circumstances. But, employers need to manage the workplace properly. And, they should not place unreasonable demands on their employees in the current climate. 

Employers cannot take disciplinary action, or dismiss an employee if they reasonably  believe they are in “serious or imminent” danger, and consequently take appropriate action. In legal terms, the employee cannot suffer any detriment – which can be interpreted very widely. Bullying, harassment, missing promotion, being given unpleasant tasks, or being offered reduced pay are all detriments.

Some experts even argue that placing such an individual on furlough could, in some circumstances, be viewed as a detriment. In other words, the employee was being penalised 20% of their average earnings because the employer could not provide a safe enough environment for them to work in.

As we enter the next stage of the pandemic crisis, and employers start to look at how their business will evolve, redundancies and dismissals may well follow. It is important that employers protect themselves from the risk of further litigation, especially in an era of claims management companies might be prepared to take on some high-profile cases.

The risk is particularly high in many health and safety cases, as there could be unlimited damages, with no qualifying service criteria.  Remember also, it is not just employers that can dismiss, employees can claim constructive dismissal, or make whistleblowing claims if employers fail to deal with health and safety issues.

Not only could there be substantial damages and awards in such cases, if employers have behaved inappropriately, then in many cases automatic unfair dismissal may well be the verdict.

It may not just be the traditional ‘skivers and trouble-makers’ who appear to be a problem. There are a lot of very worried people at the moment, so be respectful of their concerns, and avoid treating them as a nuisance to be ‘dealt with’.

It is, therefore, imperative that employers, as they start to welcome workers back, do the following:

  • Do a full COVID-19 risk assessment of the workplace, taking into account the Government’s guidance for social distancing and safe working.  This should include consideration of the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
    • The method of travel to work, especially if it involves public transport or shared driving;
    • Site access and egress points – including avoiding congestion peaks, having 2 metre marking on the floor/ground, hand washing stations, dealing with delivery drivers;
    • Hand washing – additional facilities and supplies of hand wash, allowing extra breaks to wash hands;
    • Toilet facilities – restriction of numbers at any one-time, extra signs, enhance cleaning regimes to at least several times a day;
    • Canteen and rest areas – stagger break times, all surfaces regularly cleaned, 2 metre distancing;
    • Meetings – minimise the numbers to an absolute minimum, keep 2 metres apart, have good ventilation (open windows), or if feasible, hold short meetings standing outside;
    • Cleaning – enhanced procedures, especially in communal areas and at shared touch points, from photocopiers and telephones/keyboards through to machinery, tools and equipment, rubbish should be emptied regularly throughout and at the end of each day, all areas used for eating must be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each break and shift, including chairs, tables, doors, vending machines etc; 
  • Remember, that the hierarchy of risk control measures are in the following order:
    • Eliminate – people with symptoms of Coronavirus should not come to work;
    • Reduce – social distancing rules, washing hands before and after using shared equipment, regularly clean common touchpoints such as doors, handles, buttons, tools, equipment, stop/minimise hot desking;
    • Isolate – keep groups of workers that have to work closely together in the same teams, and in as small a number as possible, away from other workers;
    • Control – carefully supervise these new restrictions, keep face to face working to smaller time frames;
    • PPE – providing 2 metre social distancing guidelines are met, Respiratory Personal Equipment (RPE) such as face masks, are unlikely to be required, unless an employee has good reason to wear it, or, you are working in high infection risk areas such as social or health care, reusable PPE should be thoroughly cleaned and not shared;
    • Behaviours – measures necessary to minimise the spread of infection by 2-way communication over the importance of people taking responsibility for their actions and behaviours, and, encouraging people to raise concerns so that they can be addressed;             
  • That they consult fully with the workforce, and explain exactly how they intend to make the workplace safer through additional control measures;
  • Ensure that all workers understand they need to comply with the rules, and to respect others concerns in the current climate;
  • Continue to review and adapt their working practices as employees return to work;
  • Document carefully, and act on workers reasonable concerns about the workplace;

The Health and Safety Executive are already monitoring social distancing at work, even if they are not doing many visits. They are likely to be adopting an ‘intelligence based’ approach, so be careful not to give anxious employees an excuse to give them a call.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

A reminder today that the normal rules of employment continue, even in the current crisis.  Although this had nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic, an award against Paradigm Precision is important, primarily because the award is so large, £175,000.

The company makes gas turbine components for the aerospace industry, and are based in Burnley. One of their engineers took the company to an Employment Tribunal over the treatment he received after he had revealed to colleagues that he was gay. He had joined the company in 2012, and was on course to be a General Manager. In 2018, he spoke to several people in the company, including the HR Director, as he and his husband were looking to adopt.

He is quoted in Pink News “I confided that we had started to look into adoption. That’s when everything changed. They felt they couldn’t have a General Manager when I was going to be off for 12 months with parental leave”.

Mr Allen claimed that he had suffered harassment because he was gay; that he had been discriminated against and victimised. In addition, he had suffered detrimental treatment seeking to take adoption leave, and in the end, had been unfairly, constructively dismissed. Once his personal situation had been revealed, he faced bullying, homophobic comments and received offensive emails. The judgement listed a number of harassment issues relating to his sexual orientation, as well as finding the company guilty of direct sexual orientation discrimination, of victimisation and of unfair dismissal.

The total award was just over £138,500, but was grossed up by £36,000 to take into account the tax he would have to pay.

Peter Stanway, our BackupHR™ legal expert comments:

We are sure that most employers recognise that discrimination, harassment and treatment of this sort is illegal under employment law. But what they may need reminding is that, discrimination awards are not limited by the normal constraints placed on Employment Tribunals, and are, in theory, unlimited. A claim was also made against a named individual, presumably a Director, but was held to be out of time.

£175,000 is a sizable bill, especially in today’s tough market, and the judgment contains an appendix pointing out that if it is not paid in time, interest at 8% accrues.  It can also be very damaging for the reputation of the company and overall staff morale, especially if some employees want to come out as gay, but feel they will be unfairly treated for doing so.

Actions

  • Ensure that your Equal Opportunities and Dignity at Work Policies are not just sitting on a shelf/hard drive, but are widely understood by everyone in the business, through training and promoting an inclusive culture, set by Senior Management.
  • Taking action against potential adopters is just as bad/dangerous as action against women who are pregnant, or on maternity leave.
  • Deal strongly with harassment, whether it be gestures, pictures, emails or whatever.
  • Victimising people because they complain in good faith about homophobic behaviour is just reckless.
  • There are no service restrictions on discrimination claims made by people for any one of the nine protected characteristics, so do not be lulled by a false sense of security.

The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for a free initial chat on 01480 677980.

The coronavirus pandemic is presenting us all with a number of challenges.

And one of the serious challenges confronting employers is their duty to protect their workforce. Both those at home and, if they are still working, in the workplace be it care homes, manufacturing or outdoors.

Employers have a well-established primary duty towards their workforce under health and safety law. They need to take all practical measures to reduce their employees’ exposure to risks that endanger not only their health, but their safety and welfare. This is not just about physical well-being, but mental as well.

Assessing the risk

They also have a duty to assess ongoing and new risks arising from their operational activities. Once a risk has been identified, it must be assessed to ensure the employer has identified, where practically possible, any potentially harmful risks. They then need to set out measures to mitigate or eliminate such threats.

The problem is that with the coronavirus, it is inescapable that the more an individual comes into contact with others, the more they are exposed to infection.  Some organisations will already have well understood infection control policies in place, but for most this requires new ways of thinking, adapting and operating.

Employers have to balance all of these risks with the Government’s desire to keep business open, where practical, and for the organisation’s own ongoing viability.

The Government and other bodies have issued statements and guidance on this issue. In early April, the HSC, TUC and CBI, rather unusually, issued a joint statement about health and safety in the workplace. They warned that, however difficult the current circumstances, employers are expected to comply with Public Health Guidance, such as social distancing. Any that were deliberately flouting the rules and operating in an unsafe manner could expect action to be taken against them, including enforcement notices.

Asking the right questions

To ensure that they stay safe, there are a number of practical questions employers should be asking themselves. The answers to which may well mitigate risk and help show they are taking all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their workforce.

●    How do you decide if it is safe for an employee to go to their normal workplace?

●    Do your staff understand the circumstances when they should not attend work, e.g. as part of infection control?

●    In the current climate, how easy and safe is it for individuals to get to work?

●    How safe is the exit and entry to the workplace and other pinch points?

●    Are wash and rest areas safe?

●    How do you protect necessary contractors and others that still need to come to site,  e.g. delivery drivers?

●    Can social distancing be maintained?

●    Do you have to change working arrangements to make them safer?

●    Is there sufficient hand washing facilities that can be safely accessed?

●    Is a deep cleaning regime necessary or desirable?

  • Do you need to step up workplace cleaning at the start, during, or at end of the day?
  • Who will do it, and do they have the right equipment and PPE to undertake it?

●    Is protection equipment necessary or desirable, and for what type of jobs?

●    Are there sufficient notices about hand washing, personal health, social distancing and how to identify the virus?

●    Do people understand how to work safely at home, and be able to regularly communicate with colleagues to reduce issues of isolation and anxiety?

●    Where workplaces have suddenly changed, due to a mass exodus to home working, have temporary self-assessment risk assessments happened?

●    Have you identified vulnerable individuals?

  • What actions have you taken to ensure their safety?
  • Do they need to self-isolate or shield and, if so, for how long?

●    How experienced are people at undertaking dynamic risk assessments where their working environment creates ever changing issues?

●    What do Government guidance and trade bodies advise us to do?

Your answers to these and other questions should guide and drive your actions.

There are useful Government guidelines on social distancing, specifying which businesses should be closed, along with a number of sector guides and general guidance on mental wellbeing.

Coronavirus is an extremely dangerous disease, as the number of deaths in the UK and the rest of the world demonstrates. But businesses are continuing to operate, and to operate safely.

Reasonable and effective health and safety measures are expected in any circumstances that an organisation faces. Employees are also expected to read, understand and where possible, make suggestions about their health and safety policy. And once agreed, are expected to follow  adapted measures and rules put in place to minimise infection. 

To ensure you continue to operate safely, your staff should be warned that failure to adequately follow the provisions of your health and safety policy, amended for the current environment, could result in disciplinary action.

A word of caution

Finally, however, we do need to sound a note of caution. While all employees are expected to follow your guidelines, if they raise concerns, your first instinct should not be to take action against them. Listen carefully to what they have to say. They may, after all, have some very legitimate points to make.

In addition, normal employment law still applies, even in difficult circumstances. Dismissing, disciplining or any other form of detriment to people for raising concerns can breach the Employment Rights Act, and be automatically unfair (regardless of length of service). It is also likely to be seen as taking action against a whistle-blower.

 

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

This publication is available at Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19) – updated 31st March 2020.  There has also been a lot of media coverage about the negative impact arising from COVID-19 additional to the worry about catching the virus.  Important factors such as social distancing, self isolating, loss of income, worry about job security, sudden remote working situations and alike are all having a toll on peoples’ mental health and wellbeing.  Hence why the Government has published guidance. 

We have redacted the full document for easier reference, and kept in some of the links. It is well worth accessing the original. You may wish to consider sending this round to employees.

What you need to know

It may be difficult but, by following guidance on social distancing, or staying at home, you are helping to protect yourself, your family, the NHS and your community.

During this time, you may be bored, frustrated or lonely. You may also feel low, worried, anxious, or be concerned about your health, or that of those close to you. Everyone reacts differently to events, and changes in the way that we think, feel and behave vary between different people, and over time. It’s important that you take care of your mind as well as your body, and to get further support if you need it.

What can help your mental health and wellbeing?

Consider how to connect with others: Maintaining relationships with people you trust is important for your mental wellbeing. Think about how you can stay in touch with friends and family via telephone, video calls or social media instead of meeting in person.

Help and support others: Think about how you could help those around you – it could make a big difference to them, and can make you feel better too. Could you message a friend or family member nearby? Are there community groups that you could join to support others locally?

Talk about your worries: It is quite common to feel worried, scared or helpless about the current situation. Remember that this is a difficult time for everyone, and sharing how you are feeling and the things you are doing to cope with family and friends, can help them too.

Look after your physical wellbeing: Your physical health has a big impact on how you are feeling emotionally and mentally. At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour, which in turn can make you feel worse. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, exercise inside where possible and outside once a day.

If you are able to go outside, consider walking or gardening (keeping the recommended 2 metres from others as outlined in the social distancing guidance). If you are staying at home, you can find free easy 10-minute workouts from Public Health England, or other exercise videos to try at home on the NHS Fitness Studio.

Look after your sleep: Feeling anxious or worried can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how you feel mentally and physically, so it’s important to get enough. Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns, and keep good sleep hygiene practices – like avoiding screens before bed, cutting back on caffeine, and creating a restful environment.

Try to manage difficult feelings: Many people find the news about COVID-19 concerning. However, some people may experience such intense anxiety that it becomes a problem. Try to focus on the things you can control, including where you get information from, and actions to make yourself feel better prepared. It is okay to acknowledge some things that are outside of your control right now, but constant repetitive thoughts about the situation which lead you to feel anxious or overwhelmed are not helpful.

Manage your media and information intake: 24-hour news and constant social media updates can make you more worried. If it is affecting you, try to limit the time you spend watching, reading, or listening to media coverage of the outbreak.

Get the facts: Gather high-quality information that will help you to accurately determine your own, or other people’s risk of contracting COVID-19, so that you can take reasonable precautions. Think about how possibly inaccurate information could affect others too. Try not to share information without fact-checking against credible sources.

Think about your new daily routine: Life is changing for us all for a while. Think about how you can adapt and create positive new routines – try to engage in useful activities (such as cleaning, cooking or exercise), or meaningful activities (such as reading or calling a friend). You might find it helpful to write a plan for your day, or your week.

Do things you enjoy: When you are anxious, lonely or low you may do things that you usually enjoy less often, or not at all. Focusing on your favourite hobby, learning something new, or simply taking time to relax indoors should give you some relief from anxious thoughts and feelings, and can boost your mood. There are lots of free tutorials and courses online, and people are coming up with innovative online solutions like online pub quizzes and streamed live music concerts.

Set goals: Setting goals and achieving them gives a sense of control and purpose – think about things you want or need to do that you can still do at home. It could be watching a film, reading a book or learning something online.

Keep your mind active: Read, write, play games, do crossword puzzles, sudokus, jigsaws or drawing and painting. Find something that works for you.

Take time to relax and focus on the present: This can help with difficult emotions, worries about the future, and can improve wellbeing. Relaxation techniques can also help some people to deal with feelings of anxiety.

If you can, once a day, get outside or bring nature in: Spending time in green spaces can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. If you can’t get outside much, you can try to still get these positive effects by spending time with the windows open to let in fresh air, arranging space to sit and see a nice view (if possible), and get some natural sunlight.

Staying at home

Recent guidance is clear about the need for people to stay at home. If you are feeling anxious, it might help to think about potential challenges and make a plan for them.

Supplies: Think about how you can get any supplies you need – either from a neighbour, family friends or a delivery service so you don’t worry about running out.

If you care for other people: You may be worried about how to ensure care for those who rely on you – either your dependents at home, or others that you regularly visit. Let your local authority know if you provide care, or support someone you don’t live with.

If you are being treated or taking medication for existing conditions

Continue accessing treatment and support where possible: Let relevant services know that you are staying at home, and work out how to continue receiving support during this time.  Ask about having appointments by phone, text or online.

Keep taking your medication: You might be able to order repeat prescriptions by phone, or online using an app or website if your doctor’s surgery offers this.

●    Ask your pharmacy about getting your medication delivered, or think about who you could ask to collect it for you.

●    Continue to order your repeat prescriptions in your usual timeframe. There is no need to order for a longer duration, or larger quantities.

●    Your GP practice (or clinical team) may move your prescriptions to repeat dispensing arrangements, so you only have to contact your pharmacy to get a repeat of your medicine rather than your practice.

●    Be careful about buying medication online. You can contact NHS 111 in England if you’re worried about accessing medication.

Where to get further support

Managing physical symptoms that are triggered by stress and anxiety

It is quite common to experience short-lived physical symptoms when your mood is low or anxious; for example, faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, headaches, chest pains or loss of appetite.

It can be difficult to know what is causing these symptoms, but often people who experience them due to stress, anxiety or low mood find that they get worse when they focus on them.

If you are experiencing stress, feelings of anxiety or low mood, you can use the NHS mental health and wellbeing advice website for self-assessment, audio guides and practical tools.

The Government website also provides further help for specific groups of people:-

            Additional advice for groups with specific mental health needs

            People with a learning disability

            Autistic people

            Older people

            People living with dementia

            Dealing with a mental health crisis or emergency

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.