With the lifting of lockdown restrictions delayed by four weeks, businesses have been given extra time to plan how they will protect workers and customers once the country is released from the current Covid-related restrictions.
This will come as welcome news for some, as navigating the latest advice, guidance, rules and regulations can be very confusing for business owners and managers.
Earlier this month FBC Manby Bowdler’s Julia Fitzsimmons, head of the firm’s Employment team, held a zoom webinar to give local employers more information about the new requirements, and to flag up various issues including risk assessments, Covid-secure measures and supporting employee mental health which all need to be considered as the UK reopens.
Creating Covid-safe workplaces
The primary concern though for many businesses is how to ensure the safety of their employees and customers. Although the Government may decide that it will soon be safe to relax regulations and recommendations around social distancing and large groups, the virus will still be circulating, and individuals could become infected or pass the virus on to others in the workplace.
Planning ahead and involving staff in the planning process is the best approach to managing Covid-safety in the workplace. By consulting and understanding worries around coronavirus, strategies can be developed, and workers can be reassured about how they will be kept safe, and how, in turn, they can keep others safe.
Asking staff if they have any concerns and taking action to address those worries, will help to create a positive environment for people to return to work and encourage everyone to play their part in helping to operate your business safely.
Your legal obligations
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers must take steps to protect employees, whether in the workplace or acting offsite in a work capacity. And all employers who have five or more in their workforce must have a written health and safety policy and make it available to employees.
These are statutory duties and apply whether we are in a pandemic or not. The responsibilities are even more important in the current situation, and it’s sensible to take a structured approach, even if you have fewer than five staff.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the government body in charge of enforcing responsibilities, has developed a range of information for employers on how to make the workplace safe and protect staff as they return to the workplace.
Safety first – whether in or out of the workplace
As well as ensuring staff are safe within their place of employment, staff must be protected also when travelling on business. Ignoring this aspect could expose an employer to a potential compensation claim if an employee were to contract Covid-19 while travelling for work purposes.
There should be a documented risk assessment for each trip, and travel options should be chosen carefully to provide the safest possible environment, such as ensuring accommodation is being thoroughly cleaned, or responding to employee concerns about using public transport.
Encouraging employee health and wellbeing
Employees need to have safety at the forefront of their daily activities and be aware of how they can protect themselves, their fellow workers and customers. Robust health and safety policies, regularly reviewed and properly implemented, are essential, and provide a strong defence if anything unfortunate should happen, whether to deal with coronavirus or otherwise.
Mental wellbeing should also be high on the agenda according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has developed a Talking toolkit as a resource for employers to handle work-related stress. Further support is available via the Mental Health at Work charity.
If you would like more information about how best to fulfil your business’ obligations as the UK reopens, please get in touch with Julia Fitzsimmons on 01952 208420 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.