April 15, 2020

Ensuring Worker Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What are your responsibilities as an employer when considering worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic ?

The past few weeks will have been a whirlwind for most, if not all readers. To put this into some perspective, we entered a new decade less than fifteen weeks ago. If someone had told us we would have to endure Easter at home, or there wouldn’t be the usual rush on the roads and at the airports, I’m sure most of us would have laughed in disbelief.   

However, as we return from the Easter break we return to a new version of reality. One which may affect how we manage the Health, Welfare and Safety of our colleagues, peers and employees for the foreseeable future. Let’s not forget the Statement made by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer on 28 March:  

‘It could be six months before life in the UK returns to “normal”‘ 

Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on 28 March, Dr Jenny Harries added: “This is not to say we would be in complete lockdown for six months.” 

But, she said, the UK had to be “responsible” in its actions and reduce social distancing measures “gradually”. 

Ensuring the Safety of Furloughed Employees

Large numbers of your workers may be furloughed, probably decorating, gardening or finally catching up on the last series of Game of Thrones. Some, if not most, will be struggling to come to terms with these temporary arrangements and worrying about their long-term positions and future.

Whilst they’re not in work, they remain your employees. This means employers should consider how they can protect employee mental health. Remember that stress and mental health are in the scope of the Health and Safety at Work Act.   

Employees Homeworking

Those still in active work are likely to be homeworking, were possible, and the novelty may now be wearing off. Backs might be starting to ache after using the kitchen table instead of a desk. Nerves may be getting frayed balancing video calls with child care, or chasing the cat off the keyboard (as they delete three hours’ worth of work!)   

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continue to state there’s no increased risk from Display Screen Equipment (DSE) work for those working at home temporarily. And in these situations employers do not need to do home workstation assessments. However, they do suggest these short-term home workers are provided with the information they require to make their own assessment. Further guidance can be found in our homeworking as a requirement post.

Where individual homeworkers report issues or are known to have pre-existing medical conditions, a more detailed assessment of homeworking arrangements will need to be considered.   

Unable to Work from Home?

Where Homeworking isn’t possible for some or all of the workforce, some clarity was offered around the government guidance and stance on continuing to operate in these difficult times. A joint statement from the HSE, the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) set out their joint objectives for managing the risk of exposure to this strain of Coronavirus. 

The statement has two main threads: 

  • Firms that can safely stay open and support livelihoods should not be forced to close by misunderstandings about government guidance. 
  • HSE will consider a range of actions, from providing specific advice to employers, through to issuing enforcement notices, including prohibition notices where Public Health Guidance is not followed. 

We’ve explained how employers can protect their none homeworking employees in our blog post ‘My Employees Can’t Work From Home and offer further support to our customers through a regularly updated sample risk assessment and a specific guidance note backed up by access to our H&S experts via our Advice Line. 

Where employers may have furloughed employees believing they couldn’t operate as a result of Health and Safety Restrictions, this statement may prompt these employers to revisit some of these decisions. It may be possible that with time to review risk assessments, working practices and consideration of a reduced or different working pattern, businesses may look to keep operating, generating revenue and keeping workers paid.  

Where businesses do continue to operate their employees will obviously have their concerns. Consultation and communication with the workforce is going to be a key to operating safely and effectively through the coming weeks and months. 

For more Health and Safety guidance related to specific industries, Moorepay customers can call our Advice Line on 0345 184 4615 (option 3). 

**Information in this blog was correct at the time of writing, however with government and legislation changes happening daily some of this may now be out of date.**

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About the author

Philip Barker

About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.

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