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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Contents

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

Although the UK government has set out its plan for a gradual phased return to work for as many people as possible, many businesses and venues are still required to remain closed to members of the public.

While now starting to ease the lockdown, the aim of the UK government's plan is for everyone - whether returning workers, employers, customers or visitors - to stay as safe as possible outside the home by following certain principles.

Where your business was not required to close or is now allowed to reopen, you continue to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your staff (including non-employees, such as contractors) and to prevent harm to any visitors to your offices and buildings. There's a legal obligation on staff to cooperate with you on this. If staff contract COVID-19 and it can be traced to your workplace (which is possible if, for example, you experience an outbreak), they could make personal injury claims against you. You could even be vicariously liable for further infections in their household.

You could also be investigated and prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive – and that applies even where there's no infection, if you're found not to be following safe guidelines.

Government guidance

The UK government has published sector-specific guides on working safely amid coronarvirus.

These guides cover a range of different workspaces. The full PDF versions (available in each guide under Download this guidance) contain a tick list of potential actions you might need to take. There is also a poster that you'll be expected to display in the workplace to show you've complied.

This guidance will help you to carry out a coronavirus risk assessment to prepare the workplaces to be as safe as possible, before employees return.

In Scotland, the Scottish government has published its own sector-specific guidance.

A key objective for all businesses will be keeping staff at least 2 metres apart wherever possible. There is extra guidance available for businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

See also the HSE and HSENI websites for general information and advice.

Coronavirus risk assessments

Complying with the government guidance will not absolve you of liability – you'll need to show that you've carried out a risk assessment that adequately considers the impact of staff returning, and that you've carried out all of the actions arising from it.

The government guides give some details on how to do this and also points to guidance from the HSE. You'll need to consider the key hazards and risks associated with returning to the workplace and provide practical solutions for how they can be removed or reduced.

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.

Consult with your staff and any relevant trade union before finalising the assessment.

Take care not to let COVID-19 distract you from other safety considerations. In particular, don't implement unsafe coronavirus solutions – e.g. redistributing work in ways that could lead to stress or physical injury from overwork; or having staff work alone at unsafe locations or times of day.

All employers with over 50 members of staff are expected to publish the risk assessment on their website.

Use a building plan of your workplace to help you if you can't carry out the assessment in person.

Homeworking

The UK government and all the devolved administrations have said that staff who are able to work from home should continue to do so. This advice seems unlikely to change any time soon.

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 – provided you've followed the government guidance (see above).

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 that's not practical in the current situation. You could 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).

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 must make a report under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations when:

  • An unintended incident at work has led to a member of staff possibly or actually being exposed to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • A member of staff has been diagnosed as having coronavirus and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • A member of staff dies as a result of workplace exposure to coronavirus.

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, anxiety around attending the workplace and being furloughed.

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.

Temporary relaxation of drivers' hours

Demand for the delivery of goods has understandably risen considerably. The Department for Transport has temporarily relaxed the enforcement of drivers' hours rules in England, Scotland and Wales.

Government guidance states that the relaxations aren't limited to particular sectors or journeys, but the intention is that they should be used when transporting essential goods by road (e.g. medical equipment/supplies, essential food/hygiene items) and only where necessary.

See Drivers' hours: rules and guidance for more.

The Health and safety Executive has stated that all drivers must have access to welfare facilities in their workplace. This is a legal requirement and they must be available during the hours they work, which can be late at night. See Arrangements for driver welfare and hours of work during the coronavirus outbreak for more.

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. Pay particular attention to situations where staff may be in close proximity (less than 2 metres) to others. Remember that individuals at particular risk include those:

  • with compromised immune systems;
  • over 70;
  • 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 comply with government advice (particularly around social distancing). Take steps to reduce the risk to vulnerable staff identified by the risk assessment.

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 been diagnosed with COVID-19 or in contact with someone who has;
  • What you require them to do after being notified.

5. Ban all non-essential business travel.

6. 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.

7. Decide what steps you'll take if a staff member infected with COVID-19 attends the workplace. You should:

  • Immediately communicate this to all staff (if possible, don't name the person for data protection reasons)
  • Confirm if the workplace will close (consider doing this to protect staff).
  • Instruct staff to take work home with them (if possible)
  • Contact your local public health authority in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. They'll conduct a risk assessment and tell you what to do next.

8. 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.

9. Try to maintain supplies of soap, cleaning products, disinfectants and cleaning materials.

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

11. Keep records of the number of staff who have:

  • been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed
  • shown potential COVID-19 symptoms, but haven't been diagnosed

For data protection reasons, don't collect more data than you need and use appropriate measures to safeguard it.

12. Ensure staff contact and emergency contact details are up to date.

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

14. 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.