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Coronavirus advice for employers

People who can’t work from home should be “actively encouraged” to go to work. That was one of the key messages from Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week. Mr Johnson mentioned construction and manufacturing as examples of the sorts of industries where restarting would now be explicitly encouraged. On Saturday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that, as part of a cautious phased return, children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will be allowed to return to school on 1 June, but only if rates of infection are decreasing.

Wednesday’s Briefing



Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden led yesterday’s daily briefing from Downing Street. He was joined by Stephen Powis, National Medical Director at NHS England. Some of the main points included:

  • Mr Dowden pledged £150m from dormant bank accounts to support social enterprises;

  • A task force has been set up to examine how to resume sports and arts activities without crowds, featuring figures from football, TV, the arts and technology;

  • The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has fallen below 10,000 for the first time since March;

  • Mr Dowden denied that issues with infections in care homes have been “glossed over”, saying that testing was available “right from the very beginning” and the number of infections was coming down;

  • Mr Dowden said talks about the Premier League playing behind closed doors could create a “win-win” by allowing additional matches to be broadcast free-to-air. He said existing TV rights could be respected, but concerns about competing with matchday attendances would be removed.

Other developments:

  • The HSE has announced it is restarting “proactive” inspections of construction sites;

  • A trial to see whether two anti-malarial drugs could prevent COVID-19 has begun in Brighton and Oxford;

  • People in England have been warned against using coronavirus antibody tests sold by some retailers;

  • EasyJet will resume some flights on 15 June, with all passengers and cabin crew told to wear face masks;

  • The number of people infected worldwide has now reached five million, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University;

  • Greece has announced that its tourism season will start in June, adding that international flights will resume in July.

Latest figures

AccordHSEing to figures from Worldometer, there are:

Globally:

  • 5,090,977 confirmed cases;

  • 329,761 deaths.

UK:

  • 248,293 confirmed cases;

  • 35,704 deaths.

Ireland:

  • 24,315 confirmed cases;

  • 1,571 deaths.

HSE to restart “proactive” inspections of construction sites

The move follows a government announcement of more cash for the organisation and prime minister Boris Johnson promising the body would carry out “spot inspections” to make sure businesses were safe places to work. However the head of the union representing HSE inspectors has warned the organisation remains too small, reports Construction News.

The safety watchdog stopped carrying out routine inspections after the lockdown announcement in March, despite sectors such as construction continuing to operate.

HSE to prosecute and lockdown eased in England

The HSE is prepared to use its enforcement powers when necessary and will also consider criminal prosecutions, its Chief Executive Sarah Albon said. She said last week, she is aware of a small number of firms “not doing the right thing or not sure what the right thing is to do”.

Government strategy and workplace guidance

The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy

An outline to the Government’s plan for rebuilding and recovering from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has now been published.

The government is proposing a three-step plan. In summary:

  1. Step one, starting on Wednesday 13 May:

  • Workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open, and workplaces should follow new “Covid-19 Secure” guidelines;

  • More vulnerable children, who are already able to attend school, are urged to do so.


  1. Step two, which will begin no earlier than 1 June:

  • Nurseries and primary schools will begin a phased return. At first this will only involve early years, reception, and years one and six. But the government’s ambition is that all primary school children in England should return to school for a month before the summer;

  • Some businesses will be able to re-open and sporting events will be able to take place behind closed doors – but not hairdressers or beauty salons;

  • The government is seeking advice on allowing people to expand their household group and examining how small weddings can be better facilitated.


  1. Step three, which will start no earlier than 4 July:

  • more businesses will be able to open – although some, which are crowded by design, will not be able to open.


It is stressed that all dates could be delayed if not enough progress is made in tackling the virus, and restrictions could be reintroduced. And the government stress that changes are dependent on the rate of infection staying down.

“COVID-19 Secure” guidelines

Many measures require the development of new safety guidelines that set out how each type of physical space can be adapted to operate safely. The Government has been consulting relevant sectors, industry bodies, local authorities, trades unions, the Health and Safety Executive and Public Health England on their development.

To make workplaces less infectious, the guidelines promotes, for example:

  • Keeping a distance between people outside their household;

  • Keeping the hands and face as clean as possible. Hand sanitiser should be carried when travelling and applied where available outside the home, especially when entering a building and following contact with surfaces. Clothes should also be washed regularly, as there is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics;

  • Limiting the number of people that any given individual comes into contact with regularly. Employers can support this where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to keep smaller, contained teams. Evidence also suggests the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well-ventilated areas.

Lifting restrictions step-by-step

Step 1

In terms of work, the key messages in Step 1 include:

  • For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible;

  • Parts of the economy that are allowed to open should do so, including food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research;

  • Employees in these industries are now asked to return to work but should avoid public transport on their commute where possible;

  • As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines;

  • The advice says that these industries will be asked to follow new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines which are set to be published, but will likely include asking employers to take steps to reduce unnecessary contact between workers;

  • Hospitality and other non-essential shops will remain shut during this period.

Other measures relate to schools, travel, face coverings, public space, shielding, international travel, and enforcement.

Step 2

The Government’s current aim is that the second step will be made no earlier than Monday 1 June, subject to conditions being satisfied.

The current planning assumption for England is that the second step may include as many of the following measures as possible, consistent with the government’s five tests. Organisations should prepare accordingly, it says. The measures cover schools, a phased re-opening of all non-essential retail businesses, cultural and sporting events, and social and family contact.

Step 3

The final part of the Government plan is not expected to come into force before 4 July and relies on scientific and medical advisers being satisfied the previous measures have not caused a spike in the infection rate.

During this final stage, the government would hope to reopen at least some of the remaining businesses, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons) hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas). They should also meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines.

5 steps to working safely

This government advice sets out practical actions for businesses to take based on five main steps.

The relevant guide for each workplace should also be read (see below) as these contain specific actions for businesses to take based on these steps. Further guidance will be published as more businesses are able to reopen, says the government.

  1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

Before restarting work you should ensure the safety of the workplace by:

  • carrying out a risk assessment in line with the HSE guidance

  • consulting with your workers or trade unions

  • sharing the results of the risk assessment with your workforce and on your website.

  1. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures

You should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by:

  • encouraging people to follow the guidance on hand washing and hygiene

  • providing hand sanitiser around the workplace, in addition to washrooms

  • frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly

  • enhancing cleaning for busy areas

  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets

  • providing hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers.

  1. Help people to work from home

You should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home by:

  • discussing home working arrangements

  • ensuring they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems

  • including them in all necessary communications

  • looking after their physical and mental wellbeing.

  1. Maintain 2m social distancing, where possibl

Where possible, you should maintain 2m between people by:

  • putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance

  • avoiding sharing workstations

  • using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a 2m distance

  • arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible

  • switching to seeing visitors by appointment only if possible.

  1. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk

Where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:

  • considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate

  • keeping the activity time involved as short as possible

  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other

  • using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible

  • staggering arrival and departure times

  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’.

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Workplace Guidance: Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is for employers to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely.

The ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines aim to help make workplaces as safe as possible and give people confidence to go back to work during coronavirus pandemic. The documents have been developed in consultation with approximately 250 businesses, unions, industry leaders as well as devolved administrations.

The new guidance covers eight workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways.

Practical steps for businesses are focused on five key points, which should be implemented as soon as it is practical:

  1. Work from home, if you can

All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, our message is clear: you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.

  1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions

This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.

  1. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible

Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

  1. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk

Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.