Return to work – employer considerations
The Prime minister recently outlined a change in status from ‘stay at home’ to that of ‘stay alert’. This represents the first step in the easing of restrictions, a process that we are told could be halted or reversed depending upon the control of COVID-19 within the general population. Further details are expected and there has been some criticism in relation to the timing, the perceived vagueness and even the variation between different parts of the United Kingdom. However, what it does represent is a fundamental change in terms of work. There is a clear shift from staying at home to going back to work if people cannot work from home. This may be problematic for some given people are being encouraged to avoid public transport, but the emphasis is clear – a phased return to work is beginning.
So what does this mean for employers? The first thing to bear in mind is that normal Health and Safety rules apply, which require employers to do all they can to protect the good health of their staff whilst they are performing their duties.
We have heard much about the challenges of social distancing in travel, social and workplace environments. Hand washing and sanitising is still very much regarded as best practice whilst there continues to be debate about mask wearing.
All workplaces are different and it will be important to consider post COVID-19 safe working practices. The Health and Safety Executive clarifies the general obligations of employers on its website:
“It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.
This means making sure that workers and others are protected from anything that may cause harm, effectively controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace.
Employers have duties under health and safety law to assess risks in the workplace. Risk assessments should be carried out that address all risks that might cause harm in your workplace.”
It is reasonable therefore, to suggest that returning to work should probably be accompanied by a review of health and safety policies, procedures and working practices and will likely involve completion of risk assessment(s) specific to different tasks.
Health and safety and regulatory law is a relatively complex area, as such employers seeking guidance should contact Pictons to discuss their concerns. We can then work collaboratively with an employer on a plan of action, thereby helping to protect against health risks and mitigate against any regulatory non-compliance.
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