How do my general Health and Safety obligations relate to Covid-19?

Health and safety is always important, of course. But for many small businesses working in standard low-risk office environments, it doesn’t take on a lot of prominence on a day-to-day basis.

This can mean that many small business owners don’t really know precisely what their health and safety obligations actually are, and are having to get on top of that in circumstances where those obligations have to be interpreted and performed in very different circumstances.

Here are five of your key responsibilities and how they might be affected by Covid-19:

Health and safety policy

If you have five or more employees you must have a written policy setting out your approach to health and safety. It should set out your general commitment, outline who has what responsibilities, and give details of any specific practical arrangements.

Practical arrangements in respect of health and safety will have changed in light of Covid-19 and you should ensure this is recorded. You could either make changes to your existing policy, such as adding a Covid-specific section, or you could have a supplementary specific document setting out any new arrangements in place for the duration of Covid-related restrictions. As restrictions may change over time depending on local tier arrangements, severity of the pandemic or sector-specific requirements, having the Covid-specific arrangements separately would probably be sensible, rather than changing your health and safety policy several times.

Risk assessments

You are required to take steps to identify hazards and risks in the workplace, remove or reduce them, and to record your actions. In a low-risk office environment it is probably rare that risks change, and any actions are most likely to be needed on a individual basis, because of individual health conditions or specific needs, such as pregnancy, or back or neck problems.

A risk assessment and management process in light of Covid-19 becomes more onerous and affects everyone, not just those with exacerbating factors.

There is plenty of guidance available about making the workplace Covid-safe whichever sector you are in, and you need to be conducting risks assessments regularly in the light of that guidance and recording the results diligently.

Facilities

You are obliged to provide a certain level of workplace facilities for your employees in terms of washing and toilets. These need to be enough for the numbers of employees you have, with hot and cold running water, soap and supplies. This doesn’t change, however in the light of the need for social distancing and extra hand-washing, you may need to check that your facilities are still adequate.

Consult your workers

You need to consult workers on health and safety issues in the workplace. In a low-risk office environment this is probably not a requirement that is particularly ‘active’, but in the light of Covid-19 this means involving them in risk assessments you are conducting, talking to them about the Covid-safe measures you are taking, and considering any input or comments they may have.

Provide information and training

You need to give workers clear instructions and training on how to work safely – in a low-risk office this normally means written instructions rather than formal training sessions. With Covid-19 workers will need more information and training. They will need to know how to follow Covid-safe measures you are implementing, such as restriction on numbers in rooms, spacing of desks, one-way systems, hand sanitising or similar. They’ll need to know any additional rules on visitors, deliveries or other procedures that normally happen automatically with little or no thought given to Health and Safety.

Reporting requirements

Under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) you are required to report certain serious accidents, diseases or ‘near-misses’ on work premises. Again, in a low-risk office environment this is vanishingly unlikely to be something you need to concern yourself with.

But if someone in your workplace test positive for Covid-19 as a result of work-related exposure to the virus, this needs to be reported.

 

If you’d like some advice about managing employees coping with Covid-safe measures and concerns, do get in touch.