COVID-19 advice
Published: 01 Jul 2020

Here at Cedrec, we have received many queries in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and compliance with health and safety legislation.

In order to help you all out, we've put together this In Focus to address some of your main areas of concern, and provide links to useful guidance on Government and relevant agency websites.

This In Focus will cover:

If health and safety law still applies
Derogations and exemptions
Risk assessments
Social distancing
Homeworking
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Vulnerable workers
Statutory testing and inspections
RIDDOR reporting
Construction sector advice
COMAH sites
Manufacturing sector
Transport
Guidance on reopening some workplaces
Education establishments
Legionella risks
Gas safety
Pressure systems
NHS test and trace: workplace guidance
Useful sites

We'll also keep this page updated as things progress.

Does health and safety law still apply?

Now more than ever, the health, safety and well-being of employees should be paramount.

The employer's duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order SI 1978/1039 is arguably more important in this current crisis than it ever has been before, not only to ensure the health and safety of their employees directly, but also because of the potential impact it can have on their families and loved ones.

This means that health and safety legislation still applies as it did prior to the outbreak.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued two joint statements:

  • one joint statement alongside the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Confederation of British industry (CBI); 
  • a second joint statement with the Partnership on Health and Safety in Scotland (PHASS),

in order to express their regulatory position in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. They have stressed the importance of maintaining the health and safety of workers, and enforcement action that they will pursue in light of organisations breaching guidance of Public Health England on social distancing.

There will be some derogations and exemptions to this which will be provided for by either the Government or agencies like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSE NI) or Environment Agency.

Derogations and exemptions

Unless specifically stated in Government or a relevant agencies guidance that there is a derogation or exemption to the law due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the law will continue to apply as it always has done.

These are current derogations and exemptions that have been published so far:

There have also been a series of regulatory position statements and regulatory decisions published by each countries respective environmental regulators:

Risk assessments

Due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, employers need to continue to make sure that an appropriate assessment of the risk is carried out and measures put in place in line with current Government advice.

Control measures will depend on the level of risk and type of workplace and should not reduce the level of protection afforded by existing measures. For example, keeping fire doors open to reduce touching potentially contaminated door handles may seem like a sensible idea, but it creates increased risk. Instead, appropriate regular cleaning and advice on hand hygiene is more appropriate.

Remember to communicate these new measures put in place to all relevant employees and others at the place of work.

The HSE's guidance on Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak offers advice on risk assessments.

If any work needs to be carried out at locations outside of the employer’s workplace, employees should:

  • comply with site rules;
  • take into account the Government guidance on good hygiene practices and social distancing;
  • consider any other persons who may be affected by their work. 

For the most up-to-date COVID-19 guidance for businesses in your country, see the links in the Useful Sites section of this In Focus.

Social distancing

One of the main areas of concern we've had from our customers relates to maintaining social distancing in the workplace. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to work from home and particularly in workplaces where their job roles make them key workers, a lot of you have been asking if the two metre social distance measure announced by the Government is mandatory in the workplace.

So for businesses we advise that you review your risk assessments in line with the advice on social distancing and consider safe working practices. If a task is critical and must be carried out, can it be undertaken in a different way that allows for social distancing and employee/contractor safety, or are there other measures you can implement to reduce and control the risk.

Certain work tasks will make a two metre distancing between employees difficult. Government guidance says that "where possible, maintain a two metre distance from others". This stance has also been backed by the HSE and seemingly the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSE NI).

Remember to check if you have contractors on-site, what additional safety measures are in place for them.

In Wales the Government have gone one step further and announced legislation applying the two metre social distancing rule to any workplace in attempts to protect workers from the virus.

All businesses will have to take all reasonable measures to ensure the two metre rule is maintained between people on their premises whenever work is being carried out. This rule also applies to work at homes, where work and repairs are being carried out, and any work in outdoor spaces.

For more information, see:

Homeworking

Ideally, if you can work from home, then you should.

Remember as an employer your duty of care still extends to employees when they are working from home.

The HSE has a specific page on protecting home workers. The HSE NI also has a useful homeworking advice page which is informed by the HSE.

In relation to display screen equipment assessments, the HSE and HSE NI say that those working from home on a long term basis must have a workstation assessment.

Those working from home temporarily are not an increased risk, so employers in this instance do not need to do home workstation assessments. With many of us now working from home on a temporary basis, we are also aware that we may be doing so for months to come, however, there is currently no further guidance as to what constitutes working form home on a long term basis when the requirement for a DSE assessment would kick in.

We have a specific In Focus covering this topic: Homeworking and COVID-19.

This provides information on:

  • things to consider;
  • flexibility;
  • remote and home working without supervision;
  • equipment and technology; and
  • stress and mental health.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Requirements for any additional PPE will be informed by a revision of your risk assessments. Current guidance only requires social distancing and hygiene measures for hand washing or sanitising.

Some job roles may require additional PPE as a control measure identified in a risk assessment. Where this is the case it is important to ensure these are suitable and appropriate for the task and do not increase the overall risk to the employee.

For more information, see:

Where additional PPE has been used and it may have been contaminated with the virus, or you do decide to use disposable PPE as an extra precaution, you should adhere to the following Government advice for disposal of it:

  • double bag the PPE;
  • leave it for 72 hours; and
  • dispose of it in the normal waste stream.

For more information, see:

Vulnerable workers

There are certain groups of people who have been required to shield during this pandemic due to age or existing health conditions, with some individuals being described as clinically extremely vulnerable.

As greater numbers of employees return to work, it is important that employers consider the risks to workers that are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, with additional controls being implemented to reduce the risk.

The HSE's guidance on Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak offers advice on protecting vulnerable workers, including:

  • how to support shielded workers returning to work; and
  • pregnant workers.

Statutory testing and inspections

Many businesses will have upcoming equipment inspection deadlines, thorough examinations and planned maintenance and are uncertain about what to do in such circumstances. 

Currently there are no exemptions or relaxation of the requirements on inspections for work equipment, statutory inspections and maintenance.

Employers legal duties remain in place as a failure to undertake inspections can significantly increase the risk of harm to workers and members of the public. Under certain circumstances with the agreement of a suitable competent person, some legislation allows the postponement of examinations and statutory inspections, but the duty-holder is still responsible for ensuring the equipment is safe to use.

The HSE has issued the following to clarify dutyholders obligations at this time, see:

The HSE NI has also produced a statement on statutory inspections, acknowledging that it may not be possible to keep equipment inspections on schedule. If this is the case, businesses remain duty bound to ensure plant is safe to use. In all cases, businesses should seek advice from a competent person responsible for maintaining and inspecting the equipment.

RIDDOR reporting

There is no statutory requirement to report cases of COVID-19 in the workplace under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations SI 2013/1471 and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 1997/455), unless there is a direct link between an employee’s work and contracting COVID-19.

Examples of this would include:

  • health care workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 after treating patients with COVID-19 - they would need to report an exposure of a biological agent;
  • a lab worker accidentally smashing a glass vial containing coronavirus, leading to people being exposed - they would need to report a dangerous occurrence.

There are specific advice pages regarding COVID-19 and RIDDOR:

Construction sector advice

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has issued specific advice for the construction sector for protecting the workforce during coronavirus. Version 3 of their site operating procedures is based on Public Health England guidance and intends to introduce consistent measures on construction sites of all types and sizes.

It contains advice on:

  • when to travel to work;
  • travelling to work;
  • driving at work;
  • site access and egress points;
  • hand washing;
  • toilet facilities;
  • canteens and rest areas;
  • changing facilities, showers and drying rooms;
  • work planning to avoid close working;
  • first-aid and emergency service response; and
  • cleaning.

Health and safety requirements for construction activities should not be compromised. If a task can't be carried out safely, it should not be undertaken at all.

In Northern Ireland, the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) has issued an update on safe working which largely supports and references the advice provided by the CLC in version 3 of their site operating procedures. The CEF advises:

  • using the lockdown period to adopt and implement the CLC version 3 procedures across the business;
  • maintain social distancing;
  • make detailed preparations, including return-to-site induction training for everyone on a site, site safety and welfare preparation, PPE procurement and safe transport arrangements for staff;
  • returning to work should only be considered when the above guidance has been fully and consistently applied

For more information, see:

COMAH Sites

The HSE has published a series of guidance pages for operators of major hazard establishments, COMAH sites, under the Control of Major Accident Regulations SI 2015/483. The guidance covers specific COMAH requirements during the coronavirus outbreak.

For more information, see:

Manufacturing sector

The HSE have published guidance for employers and businesses in manufacturing sectors to help explain how to continue operations or restart them safely. It helps to manage any additional risks resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. The guidance covers:

  • safe use of machinery and equipment;
  • general building safety; and
  • how to protect people from coronavirus.

For more information, see:

Transport

The Government have published specific guidance for the private and public transport sector in England to help address the risk of COVID-19 and provide safer workplaces and services.

For more information, see:

Guidance on reopening some workplaces

The Government has published guidance for employers to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely. 

It sets out practical steps for businesses, which is focused on five key points, and should be implemented as soon as possible:

  • work from home if you can;
  • carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions;
  • maintain two metres social distancing, wherever possible;
  • where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk;
  • reinforcing cleaning processes.

The new guidance covers 8 workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways.

For more information, see:

In addition, the HSE has produced two guides to work alongside the above guidance:

Education establishments

As schools in England are now allowed to reopen, the government have issued a series of guidance documents to provide education and childcare providers with information on safe working, with specific details on infection prevention and control as well as PPE:

Legionella risks

The HSE has reminded employers, self-employed and people in control of premises, such as landlords, to identify and control risks associated with legionella. If your building was closed or has reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 outbreak, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of Legionnaires' disease.

You should review your risk assessment and manage the legionella risks to protect people when the water system is reinstated or returned to use. 

For more information, see:

Gas safety

The HSE has released further guidance on gas safety during the coronavirus outbreak. This covers advice for:

  • landlords, who have a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances, do annual gas safety checks and keep a record of each safety check;
  • registered gas engineers, who must carry out work at other people's home; and
  • shielded tenants, who should minimise contact with others.

The guidance published on the Gas Safe Register website includes legal duties and example scenarios to help dutyholders in balancing the risk to the safety of the household and public presented by the gas system, with the risk to tenants’ health from coronavirus.

For more information, see:

Pressure systems

If pressure systems in the workplace haven't been used for an extended period of time because of the coronavirus pandemic, they may become unsafe.

The HSE has issued guidance on restarting workplace pressure systems. It is aimed at any employers who use pressure systems in their workplace, these may include:

  • steam boilers;
  • air compressors and receivers;
  • industrial refrigeration systems;
  • hydraulic cylinders for vehicle and passenger lifts;
  • articulated jibs,

the system could be standalone or part of a machine or process on site.

The guidance covers:

  • examination periods;
  • safety issues; and
  • restarting a pressure system safely.

For more information, see:

NHS test and trace: workplace guidance

The NHS guidance on the test and trace service forms a central part of the Government's coronavirus recovery strategy. It explains how employers and businesses can play their part in the NHS test and trace programme to slow the spread of the virus.

The test and trace service is designed to support businesses and economic recovery by, providing testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus, so if they have been tested positive, and they and their household member know to continue to self-isolate. This should help to reduce the number of people needing to self-isolate.

This service also aims to help the Government to go further in safely easing or lifting lockdown measures, once it is safe to do.

This guidance also provides information on:

  • contract tracing;
  • NHS COVID-19 app;
  • guidance for workers and self-employed.

For more information, see:

Useful Sites

England

Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Other

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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