This article summarises the things an employer should do to allow their workers to continue to work safely, and the steps they should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Your employer should have updated their risk assessment policies to manage the risk of COVID-19 within the workplace. This will help everyone understand what they should do to work safely and protect people.
Cleaning, hygiene, handwashing
The workplace should be kept clean and employees must have access to handwashing facilities, as this is a critical and fundamental part of maintaining a safer working environment. An employer must protect their workers from harm, and this includes taking reasonable steps to protect them and others from coronavirus. Because it can be transferred from people to the surfaces they touch, it can be passed on to others who touch the same surfaces.
In terms of hygiene, an employer must consider:
- Providing handwashing facilities at entry/exit points to enable people to wash their hands when they arrive and leave work. If this is not possible, hand sanitiser should be provided instead.
- Where to best situate extra handwashing facilities so people can wash their hands frequently whilst at work.
- Identify where extra hand sanitiser points are needed, in addition to washing facilities.
An employer must ensure their handwashing facilities have running water, soap, and paper towels or hand dryers.
Ventilation and air conditioning
It has been found that good ventilation, and air conditioning can help to reduce the spread of coronavirus. This is because it reduces how much virus is in the air and helps to reduce the risk of aerosol transmission. The law states that employers must make sure there is an adequate supply of fresh air in enclosed areas of the workplace.
Talking to employees and proving information
The law says an employer must consult and involve its employees in matters of health and safety and this includes the steps they take or intend to take to manage the risk of coronavirus within the workplace, such as:
- Explaining the changes they are planning to work safely
- Ensuring the change will work and listening to their employee’s ideas
- Continuing to operate their business safely
Working from home
An employer has the same duty of care and responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. If employees are working from home, their employer should:
- Provide the equipment they need, for example, a computer/laptop, phone, and video-conferencing facilities
- Keep in regular contact with the employee and ensure they discuss their wellbeing regularly
The risk to vulnerable workers of coronavirus must be considered by an employer and controls put in place to reduce the risk. Again, this is down to the responsibilities of an employer and their legal duty to protect their workers from harm. Higher risk groups include:
- Older males
- Those who have a higher body mass index (BMI)
- Those who have health conditions such as diabetes
- Individuals from Black, Asian, or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds
- Pregnant workers
Can an employer ask an employee to turn the NHS COVID-19 app off whilst they are at work?
Released on 24th September 2020 as part of the government’s NHS Test and Trace service, the app alerts users if they have been in contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19. Employers can, in some circumstances, ask employees to switch off the app whilst at work, depending on their risk assessment and what other additional safety measures are in place.
If an employee is ‘pinged’ by the app, do they need to self-isolate?
Legally, no. The legal requirement to self-isolate only applies where the individual has been directly contacted by NHS Test and Trace. When someone receives a ‘ping’ notification from the NHS app, the instruction to self-isolate for 10 days is only advisory. That said, employers have a duty of care for all employees and also have legal health and safety responsibilities.
After 16th August 2021, fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to self-isolate following notification from NHS Test and Trace. Individuals will still be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible and follow other measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as limiting close contact with people outside their household. Individuals are advised to follow this advice until 10 full days after their most recent contact with the person who tested positive.
Can an employee be ‘forced’ to download the NHS COVID-19 tracing app?
If an employer provides a work phone or device to an employee, then the employee can be required to download the contract tracing app. Requiring employees to download apps onto their personal devices is more difficult.
Does an employer have to publish their risk assessment?
The law states that if there are over five employees in a business, significant findings from risk assessments must be written down. The guidance continues to recommend that employers publish their COVID-19 risk assessments on their website. Although businesses with over 50 employees are expected to do so.
Is a risk assessment required for those working from home?
Yes, however it should concentrate on homeworking risks.