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COVID-19: managing workplace safety

Guidance from the CIPD aims to help employers plan and manage ongoing workplace safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the reintroduction of some COVID-19 restrictions due to rising infections, employers should remain alert for the latest guidance and ensure they safeguard the health and wellbeing of their people, it says.

While we are advised to work from home where possible, there will be many who will still have to go to the workplace. Employers must plan and implement workplace measures in a way that cares for their people and prioritises their safety.

Updated ‘Working Safely’ guidance

The UK Government's ‘Working Safely’ guidance provides precautions that employers can take to manage risk and support their staff and customers. It emphasises employers’ legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business, including the need to carry out health and safety risk assessments and taking reasonable steps to mitigate risk.

The UK Government has revised guidance issued earlier for various sectors of the economy in England. Different guidance applies in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The guidance covers a range of different work types, including all offices, factories and labs.

Separate guidance covers construction and other outdoor work, events and visitor attractions, hotels and guest accommodation, restaurants, pubs, bars, nightclubs and takeaway services, shops and similar environments, and close contact services, including hairdressers and beauticians. Employers may need to use more than one of these guides as necessary, combined with the recent updates.

The government has placed more emphasis than it did previously on ventilation, referring to the advice on air conditioning and ventilation on the HSE website.

The advice encourages updated health and safety risk assessments that include COVID-19 risks, more regular cleaning of surfaces and hand sanitiser provision. Employers should also mitigate risk by reducing the number of people employees and workers come into contact with. The UK Government suggestions reflect previous CIPD advice including:

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

  • ‘Cohorting’ (so each person works with only a few others).

  • Use of face coverings (in line with latest advice).

  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.

  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working, instead of face-to-face.

  • Assigning workstations to an individual or if desk sharing is necessary, clean them between each user.

A rarely publicised aspect of the guidance is that businesses are encouraged to turn away people with COVID-19 symptoms. This will be difficult for employers to determine, says the CIPD, as the initial symptoms of a cold and COVID-19 may be similar. It remains an offence to allow a person who should be self-isolating to come to work.

CIPD guiding principles

The CIPD recommends considering three questions to help guide workplace safety:

  1. Is your workplace sufficiently safe and supportive?

  2. Are you being flexible in your approach?

  3. What is best for people’s wellbeing and performance?

The guidance emphasises the importance of communicating with employees – keeping people informed of what your business is doing will give them some degree of security in very uncertain times.

The full guidance is available here.

CIPD December 2021

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