Planned power cuts: how to minimise disruption and risk at work

  • Business Advice
James Potts - Legal Services Director at Peninsula

James Potts, Legal Services Director

(Last updated )

The National Grid warns that there could be a series of planned power cuts this winter. With the Russo-Ukrainian War disrupting electricity supplies, the UK could descend into darkness…

While the government are taking steps to prevent these blackouts, it’s vital that employers set up contingency plans just in case.

If they don’t, they run the risk of health & safety breaches, workplace accidents and injuries, and business grounding to a halt.

To minimise disruption and risk, you may need to prepare to…

1. Offer flexible working

In the event of a power cut, you’ll need to be flexible.

A loss of electricity will affect staff in your workplace and anyone working from home. In some cases, your workers might not be able to carry out their job at all.

Depending on whether it works for your industry, you could prevent disruption by adjusting your working hours – but you would need consent from your staff first.

Peak electricity hours tend to be in the morning and between 4-7pm. So, the cuts may happen around those times. If your staff usually work typical 9-to-5 hours, you could allow them to work from 8am until 4pm. That way, they’re not losing a working hour.

Alternatively, you could shorten their working hours temporarily. In this case, you would still need to pay staff their usual wage, unless you have a clause in your contract for short-time working. For example, your staff might be contractually obliged to take a pay cut in situations where the company cannot provide work. And this would apply here.

Or, you could alternate between a mix of shorter days and longer days if necessary. Consult with your staff to find a fair solution that works for everyone.

2. Provide paid leave

It could be the case that you can’t offer flexible working. Which means you may need to give staff the time off instead.

If you ask staff to take time off because of the power cuts, you should offer them paid leave. You could ask them to take it out of their annual leave if you have enough notice to do so. (You need to give staff double the amount of notice for the length of time off i.e. two days’ notice for one day off.)

It’s unlikely you will have enough notice to enforce annual leave around the blackouts. If you don't, you would need staff to either agree to take annual leave or send them home on paid leave.

And be aware that if you tell your staff not to work or don’t provide them with the means to work, you cannot withhold pay. If you don’t pay, you’re at risk of facing unauthorised deduction of wages claims and breaching contract.

To protect yourself from legal risk, review your contracts to check your provisions around reduced pay and paid leave. And if you don’t have any, you’ll need to update them.

3. Manage an influx of emergency leave requests

Be aware that power cuts may cause big issues for childcare.

The power cuts will not affect essential businesses, like transport and emergency services. If your business is exempt, then you may ask staff who would normally work remotely to come into work.

Just be aware that the power cuts may mean nurseries have to close last minute. So, staff may need to stay at home to look after children or dependants.

If this happens, you’re likely to receive an influx of last minute emergency time off for dependants requests. Which means now is a good time to make arrangements, so you’re not left with an empty workplace.

4. Remove health & safety risks

If a blackout happens, there’ll be a lot of health & safety risks to navigate. So, be prepared.

Make an inventory of the items you need to carry out your work and see if there are alternative ways of powering them. Can you use generators or portable chargers?

If you do find an alternative, you should carry out a risk assessment to make sure it isn’t a safety hazard. Keep generators at least 20 feet away from doors and windows.

Another thing to bear in mind is lighting. If your workplace doesn’t get a lot of natural light or your staff work outside of daylight hours, there’s a higher risk of:

  • staff tripping over and injuring themselves (or others)
  • mistakes if staff need to pay attention to detail (like when using machinery) 
  • eye strain, headaches, and fatigue (especially if staff use computers for long hours)

To avoid this, make sure your walkways are clear of any hazards that might cause slips or trips. You could also set up battery-powered lamps to give more light.

5. Be a mental health champion

Be aware that the blackouts might cause staff to stress about how they’ll affect their working hours, pay, and gadgets at home.

Listen to them and make them feel heard. It’s important to address their concerns and take steps to support them.

Anxiety around money worries is already through the roof amid the cost of living crisis. Being a mental health champion for your workforce is vital now more than ever.

If you have an EAP service, promote it. And if you don’t, consider setting one up. An EAP enables your staff to access the support they need to overcome personal challenges inside and outside of work. And ultimately, happier staff are more successful.

Stay prepared and protected with Peninsula

Peninsula will make sure you’re never completely powerless.

As a client, you’re protected from legal risk, health & safety hazards and huge financial losses all year round.

Need to review your contracts? Set up flexible working? Get advice on how to protect staff against health & safety hazards? It’s all sorted when you’re Peninsula covered.

To make sure your workplace is blackout-bulletproof, call 0800 029 4384 today.

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