So, lockdown is being gradually lifted and some people are “being encouraged” to return to work. What are your responsibilities as an employer?
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 s2 states “it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. That has not changed but ensuring your workplace is Covid 19 safe is now part of ensuring your workplace is safe.
The Government has issued guidance for different types of workplace environment. Please take time to read the relevant sections for your workplace and ensure you comply. Doubtless the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will use the guidance as a benchmark when undertaking inspections.
It is really good practice to consult with your employees, or representatives of your employees, about health & safety. Involving your employees in your decision making leads to greater compliance and, anyway, employers do not have a monopoly on good ideas!
When you return your employees to the workplace you might consider giving them an individual ‘induction’ so they understand what is required of them in terms of Covid 19 safety. Keep a record of who you have told what; having an audit trail is always a good idea. It can be surprising when an audit trail can become useful.
Employers are always required to provide necessary health & safety equipment and that will also apply to personal protective equipment such as disposable gloves, face masks, sanitiser and cleaning solutions. Gloves and face masks should be disposed of safely before the employee leaves your workplace – please provide a separate and secure bag for the disposal of used masks and gloves.
Officers of the HSE have a right of entry to your premises (S20 of the Act) and will be making ‘spot checks’. They can make recommendations and will return to ensure you have implemented those recommendations; ultimately they can close your premises until such times as you have rendered them safe. If the HSE have to return to your premises on more than one occasion they may make a charge to cover their expenses. You really really do not want to receive a none compliance notice!
Please be warned that breaches of health & safety legislation are a criminal offence and, in serious cases, may lead to a custodial sentence.
If your employees believe you are not complying with health & safety requirements they are entitled to ‘whistleblow’ – either to the HSE or to your local authority. If your employee believes the workplace to be unsafe they may resign and claim constructive dismissal on the grounds of health & safety – this is when your audit trail may become extremely important.
Finally, do not be afraid to ask for advice. The HSE and your local authority are experts and are always happy to provide advice.