All organisations have a duty to safeguard their employees from COVID-19 and to prevent it from spreading.
Failure to take reasonable precautions to protect your workforce from COVID-19 could result in prosecution for employers.
In this guide, we'll discuss Covid secure workplaces, the laws around COVID-19, and how employers can make their workplaces Covid secure.
What's a Covid secure workplace?
A Covid secure workplace is one that works to stop the spread of COVID-19. Due to the variety of industries and locations in which businesses operate, there's no single approach to making a workplace Covid secure.
Instead, each business or organisation must take into account current official government guidelines.
Why is it important to make your workplace Covid secure?
Due to the disastrous effects of COVID-19 on the world, employers must ensure that they take extra precautions.
Employers need safeguard their workplace against COVID-19 because of:
- Legal requirements: Employers are required by law to take precautions to safeguard employees who are exposed to infection risks in their workplace, including COVID-19. You must consult workers on any changes that might have an impact on their health & safety.
- Employees' mental health: High levels of stress and anxiety might be brought on by fears about returning to work safely. To help with this, you should prioritise employee mental health and wellbeing.
- Harassment in socially distant workplaces: Enforcing social distancing in a workplace environment can sometimes lead to tension. People can sometimes become hostile when they aren’t given control over their actions. This could result in your staff experiencing harassment at work.
You must be aware of all these issues. Make sure to include them in your reopening plans, and implement the necessary control measures.
If you are found to be non-compliant, enforcement officers may issue prohibition notices. This could lead to imprisonment and hefty fines.
Who's responsible for creating a Covid secure workplace?
In short, everyone is responsible to some extent. However, most of the responsibility for making the workplace secure against COVID-19 falls on employers.
From April 1, 2022, employers no longer need to consider COVID-19 as a separate risk when planning for their employees' safety. This doesn't relieve them of their general health & safety responsibilities to their employees.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have said that employers must carry on following workplace health & safety regulations. This involves reviewing risk assessments to keep staff members and others engaged in the business safe from COVID-19. Others could be visitors, customers or clients.
The success of occupational health & safety measures is directly influenced by how employers implement them.
UK laws on Covid in the workplace
The UK government no longer requires employers to specifically incorporate COVID-19 into their mandatory health & safety risk assessments.
However, the following general health & safety duties are still mandatory for businesses:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974: Employers must take reasonable steps to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 for welfare facilities: Employers must make sure that there is appropriate ventilation in confined areas of their workplace.
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH): Employers must protect workers who come into direct or indirect contact with COVID-19.
- Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015: Construction sites must control occupational health & safety risks and provide appropriate welfare facilities as well as fresh air.
- RIDDOR: Employers must report cases of disease, or deaths, from COVID-19. This is only if an employee has been infected through deliberately working with the virus, or has been incidentally exposed to it.
How to create a Covid secure workplace
You should follow the five steps of a risk assessment to identify hazards, evaluate risks, and take preventative health & safety measures.
Follow the steps below to help create a Covid secure workplace that will minimise the risk to worker, visitors and clients:
Carry out risk assessments
The risk assessment for COVID-19 will only consider the risks of coronavirus transmission.
Consider which employees are returning to work and what tasks will be performed on-site. If you're offering a limited service, this may differ from normal practice.
Keep in mind that different businesses will require different control measures. You should share the findings of the risk assessment with your workers after identifying the safety measures needed to control the risks.
Provide sufficient ventilation
It's your legal duty as an employer to make sure your enclosed workplace is properly ventilated with fresh air.
There are two main ventilation methods. Natural ventilation provides air through doors, windows, trickle vents, and air bricks. Mechanical ventilation, on the other hand, uses fans to circulate air across rooms.
The best ventilation method for you will depend on your workplace, so you should consider which solution is best for you and your organisation. Many buildings use a combination of natural and mechanical ventilation, with each system operating in different areas.
Clean the workplace
This includes cleaning the office, reducing the risk of high touch points, and protecting your workers from the risk of serious illness.
While it's your responsibility as the employer to keep the office clean, it's advisable to improve your cleaning procedures and encourage autonomy among your workforce.
Cleaning individual workspaces can massively reduce the risk of spreading a respiratory infection such as COVID-19.
Maintain social distancing measures
You must ensure that your workers adhere to social distancing guidelines as much as possible. The risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 can be significantly decreased by keeping people apart.
In order to maintain a safe distance between your employees, you should advise them to keep at least two metres apart.
You can use social distancing markers or limit the number of employees and customers in communal areas.
Make use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE protects users from workplace health & safety risks. These include eye protection, high visibility clothing, and respiratory infection protective equipment such as face coverings.
The HSE requires employers to have the equipment readily available or have clear instructions on where to get it.
Vaccines are one of the most effective ways to protect people against COVID-19 and have already saved millions of lives. Those who have received the COVID-19 vaccination have a much lower risk of developing severe COVID-19 or dying from it.
Employers are in a good position to support the government on the COVID-19 vaccination program.
You should encourage your employees to follow public health advice and get their vaccinations to ensure maximum protection.
Get advice on Covid secure workplaces from Peninsula
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a slew of new workforce challenges and health & safety issues for employers. Businesses must follow the government guidance on the specific measures they should take to safeguard their workers, guests, and others.
If they are prosecuted and proven guilty, the employer might face imprisonment or heavy fines.
Peninsula offers 24/7 Health & Safety advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our experts.
Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 029 4376 and book a free consultation with one of our Health & Safety consultants.