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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Health and safety and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the law on health and safety.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

General responsibilities

As an employer, you have a legal duty under health and safety laws to keep your staff safe, as well as those who come into contact with them during their working day.

It is no longer a legal requirement in England, Wales or Scotland to do a specific COVID-19 risk assessment in all workplaces.

However, if you employ staff who run the risk of being infected because of their type of work, you'll still have to specifically consider these risks in your risk assessment and implement control measures.

You will also need to specifically consider the risks posed by COVID-19 if you employ workers who are more vulnerable to being infected and becoming seriously ill, such as those who are immunosuppressed, pregnant or previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable.

Guidance

The 4 UK nations have each published guidance setting out the best way to protect workers.

England

In England the aim is to learn to live safely with COVID-19 by taking steps in the workplace to reduce the risks of passing it on and protect staff against other respiratory illnesses as a result.

The guidance points to the importance of employers and staff being able to recognise COVID-19 symptoms and then for employers to support and enable staff who have those symptoms to follow specific guidance.

It also lists other actions employers could take, such as:

  • Encouraging staff to get vaccinated
  • Ensure proper ventilation in the workplace
  • Maintaining a clean workplace

Wales

The guidance for Wales strongly recommends that employers continue to follow public health control measures to mitigate against not only COVID-19 transmission but also the spread of other communicable diseases.

This includes ensuring that the following is applied in the workplace:

  • Sufficient ventilation
  • Robust cleaning, personal hygiene and hand washing practices
  • Regular training
  • Physical distancing
  • Working from home
  • Asking people with symptoms to stay home
  • Supporting vaccination uptake

Scotland

The guidance for Scotland recommends that employers continue to consider the risks of spreading and exposing workers to COVID-19 as part of their statutory health and safety risk assessment and to take action to manage and control that risk.

Employers are further encouraged to use a public health risk assessment tool.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the guidance emphasises that employers must do what is reasonably practicable to protect their staff and members of the public. The advice includes supporting staff from vulnerable groups to work from home where needed.

Coronavirus risk assessments

Even if not mandatory for your specific workplace, it would still be best practice to do a COVID-19 risk assessment. This will ensure that you satisfy your general legal obligations relating to the health, safety and wellbeing of your staff.

Advice is available on the steps to follow when doing a COVID-19 risk assessment. In general, you'll need to:

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus;
  • think about who could be at risk;
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed; and,
  • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn't possible, control the risk.

Examples of what to include in your risk assessment are available from:

Although you only have to record your risk assessment in writing if you have 5 or more employees, creating supporting documentary evidence of how you've conducted the assessment will be useful if you're investigated by the HSE or subject to any claim.

Sharing coronavirus risk assessments

The risk assessment should be shared and discussed directly with your staff unless you recognise any trade unions, in which case it should be shared and discussed with them instead.

There are 2 sets of regulations that set out how you must consult with your staff and any trade union. Which one you need to comply with depends on whether you recognise a trade union and have appointed trade union representatives.

You can find out which law applies to you by using the HSE flowchart. Once you know which applies, you can read the HSE guidance on how to consult and involve your employees and their representatives on health and safety matters in a way that complies with these regulations.

Homeworking

Homeworking remains a key method of controlling the spread of coronavirus.

You have the same health and safety duties to staff when they're at home as you do when they are in the workplace, though they must take reasonable care of their own health and safety. Remind them to take breaks and not overwork or do anything that may risk their health and safety.

It's particularly important at this time to consider and monitor their mental health.

If working from home is jeopardising their health or safety in some way (e.g. it's having a serious impact on their mental wellbeing), you could give them the option of returning to the workplace if it will help.

Acas have published guidance to help employers with issues relating to staff returning to the workplace.

See our Homeworking section for more.

Homeworking risk assessments

Don't forget that homeworking staff also need risk assessments. Ordinarily, you'd visit them at home to do this, but you could instead ask them to assess themselves by sending them a questionnaire about their workplace – look at their answers and tell them what action to take (if any).

These should be reviewed if their circumstances change (e.g. if they move home, change the room they work in, or you give them new equipment).

Face coverings

A face covering is a protective fabric that covers your nose and mouth. The type of covering isn't set by law and therefore it can be a scarf, religious face covering or any other type of fabric, as long as it is positioned securely to cover the nose and mouth. A three-layer face covering is recommended by the World Health Organization.

Face coverings are no longer a legal requirement in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. There is, however, guidance in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland about when it would still be advisable to wear one.

In Wales, face coverings are only a legal requirement in health and social care settings, although wearing one is still recommended.

Washing facilities

Remember, you're legally required to provide adequate toilet and washing facilities. This includes:

  • Enough toilets and washbasins for those expected to use them
  • Hot and cold running water
  • Enough soap or other washing agents
  • Hand towels (preferably disposable) or a hand-dryer
  • Toilet paper
  • Drinking water

Individuals with disabilities must be able to easily access the facilities.

If possible, provide extra handwashing stations around the workplace.

Reporting of COVID-19

You are only required to report cases of disease or deaths from COVID-19 where the infection was the result of the employee directly working with the virus, for example in a laboratory, or where the employee was working in health or social care settings where people are known to be infected with COVID-19.

See RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19 for more.

Mental health

Acas have published guidance to help employers and employees manage mental health during the pandemic. It covers issues related to homeworking, stress and anxiety around attending the workplace.

It suggests that employers may want to consider appointing a mental health champion or setting up a mental health support group. Workplace counselling and 'wellness action plans' are other suggestions.

You should keep in regular contact with your staff and try to create an environment where individuals feel able to be open and honest about how they are feeling.

Employee concerns

See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Employment section to find out about handling staff who refuse to return to work for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Coronavirus action plans

It's a good idea to create a coronavirus action plan around health and safety for your workplace.

1. Select someone to be responsible for monitoring the situation and reporting to management with regular updates. Consider signing up to receive updates by email or RSS feeds.

2. Conduct a risk assessment and monitor the risks posed by COVID-19 to anyone entering the premises, in particular those:

  • with compromised immune systems;
  • with certain pre-existing health conditions, e.g. cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions or diabetes;
  • who are pregnant.

3. Ensure any control measures identified by the risk assessment are acted upon.

4. Regularly pass on updates to staff and give them guidance on issues like:

  • What the symptoms are and what they should do if they have them;
  • When and how you should be notified if they've tested positive for COVID-19
  • What you require them to do after being notified.

5. Ensure managers know how to spot possible symptoms of COVID-19 and are clear on any relevant processes, such as sickness reporting and sick pay.

6. Increase the frequency and extent of cleaning in the workplace. Focus on shared areas and areas that may not often be cleaned, like doors and chair handles, light switches, keyboards and mice, telephones, desks and worktops, photocopiers and bannisters.

7. Maintain supplies of soap, cleaning products, disinfectants and cleaning materials.

8. Give staff access to tissues and hand sanitiser gel, wipes or sprays containing more than 60% alcohol. Try to maintain supplies.

9. Display COVID-19 information in the workplace and visitor areas.

10. Advise visitors to follow your guidance on preventative measures.

What is the law guide

The Desktop Lawyer law guide aims to present the law to you in a comprehensive yet jargon-free and easy-to-read format. Our law guide is constantly kept up to date with changes in business and family law by our team of in house solicitors, and includes information across all the legal jurisdictions in the UK.

Our law guide is free to use. Where we provide documents related to this area of law, or where they may help you with any legal issue in this area, they will be listed to the right of this message.