Which Covid 19 precautions remain in place after 19 July 2021? What does working safely during coronavirus mean in Step 4 of the roadmap?
On 19 July, England moved to step 4 of its roadmap to recovery, the final stage. After being in place for more than six months, the government’s instruction to “work from home where possible” has been removed. Similarly, legal restrictions on social distancing and the wearing of face masks (except on London public transport) have been lifted.
However, despite the lifting of legal restrictions, this is not a green light for life to return to normal. Instead, Government advice suggests that everyone should continue to act carefully and remain cautious while managing the risks, as cases of Covid remain high.
From a work perspective, the government has effectively put the brakes on a large-scale return to the workplace and instead “expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer”. For now, the steps being recommended to manage the risk of Covid in the workplace remain very similar to those which employers have been implementing in the last 12 months.
Do employers still have a duty of care to employees?
Yes, section 2(1) Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states 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’.
Failure to provide a safe working environment (as far as is reasonably practicable) is a criminal offence. Further, there is a potential civil liability.
In a worst-case scenario, an employee may fall seriously ill (potentially fatally). The employer would need to show that reasonably practicable precautions were taken to provide the employee with a safe working environment.
What do employers need to do to ensure a safe working environment for employees?
All employers are required to carry out a Covid risk assessment to assess and manage the risks of coronavirus in their workspace. This should be drawn up in consultation with workers. And the measures that the employer will be taking in response to any risks it identifies should be communicated to staff through a return-to-work policy. This is still required even though there is no legal requirement to socially distance.
Has the Government issued guidance on how to assure the health and safety of workers when they return to the workplace?
The government has provided sector-specific guidance on how to manage and reduce the risk of Covid infection in the workspace, covering a variety of sectors including construction, offices, restaurants, shops and more. The government has shifted the responsibility for managing the risks of Covid to employers and individuals, so it is very important to ensure the latest guidance is taken into account when managing your return to work.
What is the Government advice for employers whose employees work in offices?
Complete a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from Covid
Complete a risk assessment, considering the measures you have taken to reduce the risk of Covid in the workplace. You should share the results of this risk assessment with your staff and keep them updated on any changes.
Provide adequate ventilation
You should make sure there is a supply of fresh air to indoor spaces where there are people present. This can be natural ventilation through opening windows, doors and vents, mechanical ventilation using fans and ducts, or a combination of both. You should identify any poorly ventilated spaces in your premises and take steps to improve fresh air flow in these areas.
Clean more often
It’s especially important to clean surfaces that people touch often. You should ask your staff and your customers to use a hand sanitiser to clean their hands frequently.
Turn away people with Covid symptoms
Staff members or customers should self-isolate if they or someone in their household has a persistent cough, a high temperature or has lost their sense of taste or smell. They must also self-isolate if they or a close contact has had a positive Covid result, or if they have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. If you know that a worker is selfisolating, you must not allow them to come to work otherwise you may be fined up to £10,000.
From 16 August, if an employee has been fully vaccinated, they will be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate if they are in contact with a positive case. They will instead be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible.
Communicate and train
Keep all your workers, contractors and visitors up to date on how you’re using and updating safety measures. The most effective way of communicating this to staff is through a Covid return to work policy.
These are some of the priority actions you should be taking now to make your business safer during these challenging times. We are ready to support and advise your business on a safe return to your workplace. Please get in touch with your usual 3CS contact to find out more about how we can help.