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James Wilson provides an overview of current guidance re COVID19 for Employers

The working landscape has altered dramatically over the last three weeks. Many workers are now based at home, many businesses are not sure whether they should continue to trade or not. Below is an overview of the guidance from the Government, Public Health England and the HSE.

Business Opening and Social Distancing

The HSE guidance is to keep your business open (unless you are one of the specific groups such as bars and gyms that have been required to close). If workers can work from home, then they should. If that is not possible, then they are permitted to travel for work purposes. That is subject to the overall guidance for those showing symptoms of COVID 19 and those in the shielded category, below.

The HSE requires employers to follow the guidance from Public Health England to control public health risks. Employers should, as far as is possible, ensure that workers comply with social distancing; workers are not to be within 2 metres of one another and be provided with hand washing facilities. They should be encouraged to wash their hands with soap, for 20 seconds, regularly.

Any worker within the ‘shielded category’ (those who risk severe illness from COVID 19) should be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to follow the Government measures; in short, they are to stay at home for at least 12 weeks and avoid any face to face contact.

If the HSE identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with the PHE guidance they are likely to be, in the first instance, provided with advice as to how to comply; perhaps enforcement notices will be issued.

Specific problems:

Employers are faced with innumerable problems at the moment. Although I am sure that most employers will be concerned with the overall health of their workforce in the current climate, compliance with specific regulations might not be a top priority. Nevertheless, for those employers who have workers still attending at places of work, I recommend the implementation of a specific COVID 19 policy. This should include the basics of PHE guidance. The below is a none exhaustive list to consider:

  1. Comply with social distancing of a minimum of 2 metres between workers unless, due to the specific task at hand, this is not possible;
  2. Any coughs or sneezes to be directed into a tissue or into the sleeve; the tissue to be immediately disposed of and hands washed, for 20 seconds, with soap;
  3. Hands to be washed regularly, as above;
  4. Workers should be reminded not to touch face or eyes with their hands. If gloves are being worn, it should be stressed that this does not stop the spread of Coronavirus;
  5. All breaks, including lunch, to be carried out in compliance with social distancing; hands to be washed before commencing. Employers should consider staggering breaks to reduce the close contact of workers;
  6. Workers from different households are not to share lifts to and from work;
  7. Workers who are required to work in close contact with another (eg, driver and passenger) should, as far as is reasonable, continue to work with the same partner;
  8. Workers should be encouraged to change clothes before leaving work, to go from the changing facilities straight home and to wash the work clothes immediately on arrival at home. Hands washed after that.

Health and Safety for Workers Working from Home

An employer has the same responsibilities for home workers as they do for any other workers.

The vast majority of those working from home as a result of COVID 19 will be office-based workers.

In those circumstances, 2 issues come to light:

  1. Lone working; and
  2. Working with display screen equipment.

Lone Workers

Employers should keep in touch with loan workers. This provides two methods of support:

  1. Isolation can affect stress levels and mental health. Employers should be alive to the need to prevent this where possible The HSE provides guidance. Further to that, many workers will be subject to unusual outside stressors; trying to work whilst a partner/ housemate is doing the same; and many will have children at home. Employers should consider a flexible approach to the hours worked and when those hours are worked.
  2. Working alone will inevitably mean less access to guidance and supervision. It is more likely that a worker’s error will be compounded by attempts to rectify without the appropriate guidance. As far as is possible, workers should be provided with the means to access advice from the employer. Maintain regular team meetings via remote methods, where applicable.

Display Screen Equipment

In general, an employer has a responsibility to ensure that a worker’s workstation is set up in accordance with current guidance.

An employer is responsible for carrying out workstation assessments, even for workers at home.

The guidance from HSE is that there is no increased risk from DSE when working temporarily. We have been under the current guidance for 2 weeks. There is no requirement for employers to provide home workstation assessments. But, as the Government restrictions continue, employers will need to consider the home working conditions of its workers.

In the short term, employers can consider advising the worker on the correct DSE. A workstation checklist is a good starting point.

As the restrictions continue, employers should consider carrying out remote assessments of work stations. With more long-term solutions being considered.

RIDDOR

When must an employer report an incident of COVID 19 at work?

  • Where an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. In reality, this is only triggered if someone at work is physically dealing with the virus itself; or
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work.

Due to the fact that most people who present with the relevant symptoms are not required to ring the NHS and are not routinely tested, it is unlikely that a worker will be diagnosed with COVID 19. The most likely scenario when an employer will be required to report an incident is if a worker has been diagnosed in hospital and that worker has been in very close proximity to another worker who has previously been diagnosed in hospital.

Workers self isolating due to symptoms do not need reporting. A worker who is diagnosed with COVID 19 does not need reporting if there have been no other positive diagnoses at that worker’s place of work or unless there is reasonable evidence that that worker was exposed whilst at work.

James Wilson 6th April 2020

James is an experienced member of the Regulatory & Public Law Team acting for defendant companies in cases arising out of serious or fatal injuries in the workplace.He also regularly attends coroner’s inquests and is available to act in other regulatory cases, with special interests in Health and Safety and Environmental / Waste Management prosecutions an area in which James is assisted by his Bsc (Hons) in Geo-chemistry.James’ practice also includes professional disciplinary tribunal work and he regularly receives instructions in  police discipline matters where he appears as  legal advisor to the Chief Constable.

Contact James’ clerk      Madeleine Gray on 0113 202 8603