COVID-19 Guidance: Safety, Health & Environment

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COVID-19 Guidance: Safety, Health & Environment

Published 11 March 2020

The DHSC and PHE are leading the UK government response to the COVID-19 outbreak and providing regular advice on risk level, working with the Health and Safety Executive and other organisations.

Employers should be monitoring and following the advice as part of their duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare at work of employees. The duty extends to providing a safe working environment and providing information to employees. A failure to do so may give rise to criminal enforcement action against the employer and/or a claim for compensation under civil law.

Employers also owe duties to ensure that visitors to their premises and other members of the public are not exposed to risk. There are reports that US passengers on a cruise ship are suing the ship’s owners for alleged failures in relation to screening.

In order to comply with the general safety duties, employers should be reviewing risk assessments relating to premises and how people work in the business and considering whether risk assessments and policies should be updated to reflect current government guidance. Evidence that guidance has been followed will usually provide an argument that the employer has complied with legal duties.

Employers are not expected to eliminate all risks but need to do everything reasonably practicable to protect people from harm. This will involve weighing risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it. In view of the current risk level, employers may decide to take a conservative approach when reviewing risk, to demonstrate that reasonably practicable steps have been taken.

This may include:

  • Considering the workspace, how it is used and if adjustments are required to reduce the risk of harm. For example, temporarily abandoning agile working, encouraging employees to work from home where possible, restricting travel and cancelling or postponing events. The Display Screen Equipment Regulations apply to homeworkers and they can be trained to carry out self-assessments.
  • Enquiring of visitors/contractors whether they have any reason to suspect that they have the condition or have been with persons who may have. While this may lead to some awkward conversations, employers should be in a position to demonstrate they are following government advice.
  • Ensuring that communal areas are cleaned regularly and there is an adequate supply of soap and hand sanitiser, following current medical advice about handwashing. Where premises are shared these measures should be adapted uniformly.
  • Direct employees to medical information provided by UK Government resources for further information about the virus and symptoms.
  • Monitoring absences, whether for medical reasons or due to self-isolation following medical guidance and considering if there are spikes indicating sub optimal risk management or lack of employee engagement. There is no requirement to report absences to the HSE as COVID- 19 is not a reportable work-related illness.
  • Encourage those who are concerned about their own circumstances (or about the risk to family members) to discuss with HR what adjustments might be made to their working arrangements.
  • Consider the position of pregnant or disabled workers or those with underlying health conditions and update risk assessments as appropriate.

We will be updating this advice to reflect developments.


Fiona Gill

Fiona Gill

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6410

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