For the first few months of the pandemic, the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) were criticised, probably justifiably. They were very slow to get their act together and to offer sound practical advice to businesses trying to effectively manage their risk.
It was also noticeable last year that their enforcement team was fairly invisible too, but in the last few months there are signs that this is changing. Certainly, in December, and increasingly in January, we have had reports from our clients of unannounced inspections by the HSE. Luckily, many clients have been following our advice, and have passed these inspections with flying colours.
The HSE have now ramped up their efforts, and recently reported that they have undertaken 32,300 site visits during the pandemic. Between 6th and 14th January, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received 3,934 complaints relating to coronavirus, and took enforcement action in 81 cases, issuing either a verbal or written warning, but with only one company facing tougher action.
It is also worth remembering that many other organisations are regulated by local authority Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) who have the same powers regarding unannounced visits, and enforcement action if they so decide.
For workplaces to remain open in England, employers must carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment to develop safe working practices to reduce the spread of the virus. So, we thought it might be helpful to underline the sorts of things the inspectors are looking for:
- Written evidence of each organisation’s Covid 19 workplace risk assessment;
- What Covid Secure safe working practices are actually in place;
- Where possible certain groups of workers are working from home;
- Relevant signs are in place reminding people of the safety measures to follow;
- Social distancing measures where the workplace is large enough to permit it;
- Regular cleaning regimes, such as washing and sanitising facilities, including the strength and type of sanitiser used;
- Hygiene processes for communal contact surfaces, e.g. door handles, and the sharing of equipment;
- How the organisation instructs and mandates the wearing of face masks;
- The use of mitigating factors like laminated screens for those who are less than 2 metres apart;
- Good ventilation, including opening windows if necessary;
- Access to canteens and rest rooms are regulated through the use of timed breaks;
In other words, they are keen to see how seriously employers are taking responsibility during the pandemic, and how they are ensuring, in the face of rising infections, that their workforce stays safe.
Most of our clients who have been inspected are in the manufacturing sector, but there are reports of increasing inspections in things like retail, where they are open, and other sectors.
It should be remembered that the HSE/EHOs have extensive powers to just turn up and demand to inspect your workplace. So, not only is it necessary to have all of the above in place, it is also important to demonstrate that these measures are being regularly reviewed, and that the workforce is complying, with Management enforcing when they are not.
Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.