Coronavirus: your Health & Safety questions answered

Every business is now making plans in response to the coronavirus pandemic and there will be many difficult decisions ahead. Understandably, there are real concerns about the steps to take to manage the risk of the spread of COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus and this gives rise to a number of questions around the safety of employees and others who come into contact with the business, what practical steps can be taken to reduce the spread of infection and how to implement a business continuity plan especially if the business doesn’t already have one.

This is a rapidly developing situation and Citation seeks to provide re-assurance on certain HR and health and safety aspects as well as reinforcing official government and medical guidance.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) recognise the additional burdens caused by COVID-19 to businesses and is taking a flexible and proportionate approach whilst continuing its important role as the statutory regulator of occupational health and safety. Compliance remains with duty holders who are expected to continue to address health and safety issues and prevent injury or ill health at work.

Here are the most common Health & Safety related questions that our clients are asking us.

Risk assessment guidance

Got questions on how best to perform risk assessments for your people and tasks to help manage the risks of COVID-19? Check out our advice below.

Should I have a coronavirus policy and does Citation have a policy template?

The coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly changing situation and changes to the way the business operates and how to keep people safe is under constant review. Acting responsibly and ethically, staying current and doing all that is reasonably practicable based on government guidance is the focus. Your legal obligations under health and safety law remain (see your health and safety policy) however, legislation in this scenario should be viewed as supporting you to make the right decisions about your employees and others who you interact with as part of your business. The Health and Safety Executive is supporting the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE) who are leading the UK government on the response to the COVD-19 outbreak.

Be clear with workers in writing about your intentions to protect people and reduce the spread of coronavirus in your business. This will become your ‘policy’ - keeping records of the decisions you’re making through risk assessment and reviews of practices and procedures will help to demonstrate the rationale behind your decisions should this come under scrutiny in the future from a criminal or civil law perspective. Keeping workers updated on your decisions is also vital at this time.

For all Citation clients, Citation has produced an example ‘coronavirus policy – example procedure’ in Atlas which takes you through the initial steps to follow when someone at work or in your workplace is diagnosed with or shows symptoms of COVID-19.

Does Citation have a risk assessment for coronavirus?

Example risk assessments for ‘coronavirus’ and ‘social distancing due to coronavirus’ haves been created in Atlas. These are regularly reviewed and updated. They can be amended and approved to reflect your business for distribution to employees.

Your existing risk assessments should also be under regular review and changes made and communicated because due to the rapidly changing situation and government guidelines, they are likely to be no longer valid. Doing this means you’re complying with health and safety regulations.

I don’t know if my work activities are safe to continue carrying out - how do I assess this?

For many types of business, there will be some safety-critical tasks that for certain reasons e.g. absence, lack of available materials or personal protective equipment and clothing can no longer be done safely. If after reviewing the risk assessment no further measures can be adopted to reduce the risks, the activity should not be carried out.

In the case of the coronavirus pandemic there may be reason to continue work activities for the benefit of public safety i.e. the government has put measures in place for key workers to continue to attend work. Businesses should continue to regularly review risk assessments and procedures for these activities and consider other ways to reduce the risk of the spread of infection e.g. applying the government’s social distancing guidelines by keeping workers two metres apart, cross-training employees, changes in hours of work.

The HSE is supportive of the need to implement social distancing guidelines in the workplace and recognises that there are concerns about how practical or possible it is. However, up to date advice from the HSE states that they may consider taking actions to help ‘secure improvements with PHE guidance’ ranging from informal specific advice to employers to issuing enforcement notices.

Shall I ask employees to keep a record of where they’ve been and who they’ve met?

There’s no need to document employee’s whereabouts to this level of detail if you have remote or lone workers and already have measures in place to record details and locations of where they are working. Give reassurance to employees that they can come forward to raise any concerns about their exposure to the virus whilst at work just as would be the case if they had any other health and safety concern. If you’re a Citation client, this will be communicated as part of your ‘coronavirus policy’.

Homeworking and travelling for work advice

If you’ve got employees working from home for the first time, or employees who usually travel for work, we’ve answered our most frequently asked questions here.

We have asked people to work from home – what do we need to do?

In line with current government guidance, people (especially those with specific health conditions) are being advised to work from home where possible. The number of new measures required will depend on whether the employees already work from home or have never worked from home before. Usually an assessment of their ability to work safely considering whether they have a suitable workstation and equipment as well as a means of communication such as work mobile is the starting point. Temporary homeworking due to coronavirus requires a more practical approach especially as changes are being implemented quickly. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) say ‘there is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily. So in that situation employers do not need to do home workstation assessments’.

Citation has produced a guide to temporary homeworking. Some home workers will also be lone workers – additional measures are needed to ensure their safety and wellbeing e.g. staying in more regular contact using telephone and video conferencing.

We have employees who travel abroad for work – what should we do?

The first step is to review travel plans in terms of what is essential and what isn’t especially if it involves travel to an affected area. Eliminate the risk as far as is reasonable and consider whether they need to be cancelled or rescheduled following current government travel restrictions the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publish up to date travel advice and this should be regularly checked in relation to Coronavirus.

For unavoidable travel for work, as an employer, you have a duty to assess the risks of travelling and working in other countries, regardless of whether there is an acute situation as is the case with Coronavirus, currently. Travel plans should always consider personal safety and security and health guidelines for the destination of travel.

Communicate to all your employees regularly regarding travel risks, the consequences of travelling to an ‘at risk’ area and how the company would propose to deal with a period of self-isolation in these circumstances.

Hygiene, infection control and mask advice

Best practice workplace hygiene, infection control and advice on whether issuing masks is necessary.

What hygiene and infection control procedures should I have in place?

Review your current hygiene practices and risk assessments to make sure that you are taking all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of people spreading illness at work. This will include promoting good hygiene using posters and notices advising employees to:

  • Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their sleeve (not their hands) when they cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately
  • Wash hands with soap and water often (or sanitizer gel where this is not available)
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with their hands if they are unclean

It’s important to step up cleaning practices within the business. Many people at heightened risk of COVID-19 will now be self-isolating or working from home, however, if your work provides public-facing services where interactions with potential at-risk groups is likely, consider plans for regularly deep cleaning the premises. Public Health England has published a guide to decontamination.

Remember to review and update COSHH assessments if any new hazardous substances are purchased and train workers in their safe use.

Do I need to report cases of COVID19 that are related to my workplace?

The government is keeping records of all diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and these are being reported by registered medical practitioners.

Employers may need to report certain events relating to COVID-19 under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).

The two scenarios where this is relevant currently referenced on the HSE website are when:

  • an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence, or
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.

More information can be found on the HSE RIDDOR website.

Should we supply masks to employees?

If risk assessments identify masks as a control measure, correctly fitted and suitable masks should be supplied and worn as normal. For other employees who don’t normally need to wear masks, face masks are not currently advised as necessary. There’s been an increase in the number of people wearing disposable masks around the world, particularly in China where the outbreak began, and this leads the public in general to wonder if they should be doing the same. According to Public Health England, there’s little evidence of widespread benefit from the use of masks outside of a clinical setting such as hospitals Where there is a risk of spreading coronavirus to vulnerable groups, correctly fitted and suitable masks should be considered as an additional control measure for public safety reasons as well as protecting employees e.g. care workers in nursing homes and domiciliary care. The World Health Organisation (WHO) are constantly reviewing this in light of coronavirus so it is important to regularly review current guidance on the use of masks.

The best way to reduce the spread of infections lto maintain social distancing and good hygiene practices.

Special Note on masks provided in health care settings

Experts from the HSE and PHE have carried out a rapid review of the evidence supporting the use of protective equipment in healthcare and in the context of COVID-19. The UK recommends the use of FFP3 respirators when caring for patients in areas where high-risk, aerosol-generating procedures are being performed. When FFP3 respirators are not available, then FFP2 respirators may be used. The N95 respirator recommended by the WHO used in other countries is not CE marked but is supported by HSE and PHE for use in the context of COVD-19.

I am using different, tight-fitting masks due to supply issues – do they need to be face fit tested?

The HSE advise on the requirements for face fit testing remain the same - those who usually wear a tight-fitting face mask to carry out their work activities safely must continue to do so. If this isn’t possible for any reason, the tasks should not be carried out. The HSE advise ‘A fit test should be carried out before people wear RPE for the first time. Inadequate fit can reduce the protection provided and lead to immediate or long-term ill-health or can even put the RPE wearer’s life in danger. A fit test should be repeated whenever there is a change to the RPE type, size, model or material or whenever there is a change to the circumstances of the wearer that could alter the fit of the RPE’.

The HSE has also provided new advice on measures to reduce the risk from the spread of infection during face fit testing and anyone with suspected symptoms or who is self-isolating should not attend a fit test.

Miscellaneous coronavirus advice

Here you’ll find a collection of general, Health & Safety questions our team of Health & Safety experts have had and our advice to help you answer them in your business.

My business employs drivers who the government has identified as ‘key workers’ and we must continue to provide services – what safety precautions should I take?

The safety of drivers, other road users and others e.g. goods handlers must not be compromised. Drivers should not be expected to drive whilst tired. Review your driving risk assessments and safe working procedures around drivers hours, shift work and night workers. Ask drivers to complete a health screening questionnaire.

All drivers must have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work – this is a legal requirement and drivers should be asked to tell you if they are refused access to toilets or handwashing facilities during their site visits.

I employ someone who is pregnant – what should I do to protect them?

Following the Chief Medical officer’s advice 16 March 2020 for all pregnant women to minimise social contact as a precautionary measure, pregnant women who can work from home should work from home and you must provide equipment and ensure communication arrangements are in place to ensure their safety and well-being in the same way as any other home worker.

If the pregnant worker can’t work from home e.g. it’s a public facing or health care role, risk assessments must be reviewed, and additional measures adopted to ensure social distancing is in place and the risk from exposure to coronavirus is reduced. There are some specific guidelines for employers on coronavirus and pregnant workers and it’s recommended to take specialist advice from e.g. occupational health to help decide what precautions are required and when it should be applied.

We have a health surveillance programme in place for some of our employees – will this still need to be done?

Contact your provider for health surveillance to see what steps they are taking to continue to deliver this service and measures they’re taking to reduce coronavirus risks. Find out if they will or can deliver this service remotely e.g. appointments using conferencing technology and exchanging documents via email. You should include communications to any visitors to your workplace about hand hygiene and infection control.

My first aiders/fire marshals are off work – is this safe?

Review or carry out a ‘first aid needs’ assessment. How many people are the in work and what work do they do? This will help you decide if you have enough first aid cover. Low risk workplaces don’t necessarily need a trained first aider but an ‘appointed person’ who looks after first aid supplies and knows what to do in an emergency. Can someone else take on this role as a temporary measure? Record your reasons for any changes in a risk assessment. For workplaces where qualified first aiders are needed, consider other options e.g. if the level of first aid can be reduced as a temporary measure or if the provision can be shared with nearby workplaces who know what injuries could occur in your workplace. Be sure to tell everyone about the changes and what to do in an emergency.

Extensions may be applied to first aid at work certificates expiring on or after 16 March 2020. Evidence will be needed on why re-qualification hasn’t been possible e.g absence, reduced hours etc.

Fire marshal duties can also be reviewed to see if anyone else can take on the role as a temporary measure. Online training courses are available for this which you can ask them to complete.

Some of our worker’s training certificates are due to expire and we haven’t been able to book refresher training – can they continue to do this work when it expires?

If the type of work requires specific in-date training e.g. fork lift truck drivers, you must continue to ensure that they can carry out the task safely and deliver in-house training via a mixture of online courses and on the job refresher training where possible. Keep a record of your updated risk assessments relating to these tasks to show why the usual re-training route hasn’t been possible at this time and the alternative training method provided.

Some of our statutory inspection documents have or are soon to expire – can I continue to use the equipment?

The plant and equipment must remain safe to use at all times and during the period of an expired inspection certificate advice should be taken from the competent person or insurance inspection provider about the steps that can be taken to permit the continued use of the equipment. If safety could be compromised in any way, the plant or equipment should not be used.

Questions about coronavirus?

The global situation surrounding coronavirus is developing at a rapid pace. It’s always best to keep checking the government’s official guidance, which is updated daily and frequently under review.

If you’re already a Citation client and you need advice on the Health & Safety implications of risk assessing for coronavirus and workplace hygiene, you can call our advice line on 0345 844 4848 any time of the day or night.

Not yet a Citation client? Simply leave your details in the form opposite and one of our friendly team will be in touch to talk through your business needs. Or give our team a call on 0345 844 1111.

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