As lockdown measures continue to ease, and businesses look to reopen (based on different restrictions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), employers must plan managing a safe return to work in a way that cares for their people and safeguards their health and wellbeing.

As changes to relaxation of restrictions and the potential for regional restrictions to be put in place, it is sensible for businesses to consider all the options and have the capability to move quickly from one scenario to another, to ensure a safe return to work after lockdown. Many people will feel confused, worried and apprehensive about going back to the workplaces and organisations will be considering a range of adjustments to the way work is done, to comply with government recommendations.

What are our obligations to protect the health and safety of our employees?

Employers have a duty to look after the health and safety of their employees. This currently comes from two main sources:

  1. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which provides that it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.
  2. The general duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of employees and to take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace and a safe system of work. In addition, employers are required to follow any specific regulations and guidance which has been issued by or on behalf of the government and which relate to the coronavirus pandemic, including, for example, new provisions in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, as well as guidance on social distancing and personal protective equipment etc.

 Risk Assessments

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all of the work activities carried out by their employees, including homeworkers, to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk. Before any return, therefore, an employer should carry out this assessment and take measures to mitigate any risks identified. This should be reviewed regularly.

The risks faced by each organisation still exist and a thorough risk assessment should consider those risks as well as any additional risks resulting from COVID-19 to manage a safe return.   Before initiating a restart, companies should ensure all equipment and systems are fully ready to operate. They will need to conduct a hazard identification and risk assessment on each operating unit to make sure it can restart safely and without incident.

The guidelines states that employers should share the results of their risk assessment with the workforce and there is an expectation that all businesses with over 50 employees publish it on their website.

Communication and Procedures

Signs should be visible in all areas of the workplace, highlighting social distancing rules and hygiene practices. It is important that you share with employees any changes that are happening and new mitigation measures in place, as this is a legal responsibility as well as a moral one. To do this you need to make sure that you have effective communication channels in place, including emergency contact details.

Hygiene

Providing hand sanitisers and other cleanliness reminders are paramount to implementing a safe environment. Cleanliness is key, and companies will need to up their hygiene procedures as much as possible .Encouraging thorough handwashing practices and  providing hand sanitisers wherever possible is important alongside installing health and safety posters as regular reminders around the office.

As employers, trade unions, public health authorities and the government work together to safeguard communities, ease the lockdown and reopen workplaces, it is clear that leadership, trust and careful planning will play a vital role in this critical next phase.

For further advice and assistance on managing a safe return to work after lockdown, please contact us here or call us on 0330 107 0165.