As an employer you have a duty of care to your staff and third parties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and under common law. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect your workers and others from coronavirus (COVID-19) by establishing good practice in relation to Covid hygiene.
Coronavirus can transfer from people to surfaces. It can also be passed on to others who touch the same surfaces, or by way of face-to-face contact. Hygiene in the workplace is therefore paramount.
Health and Safety Executive Covid hygiene guidance
The government has issued extensive guidance around Covid-19, which covers many situations. At the end of March 2021, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also issued guidance on cleaning, hygiene, handwashing, and social distancing to help ensure your workplace is COVID-secure. This guidance was scheduled to be reviewed again at the end of April 2021.
The HSE is the national regulator for workplace health and safety. Following the guidance is not compulsory, unless specifically stated. If you do follow the guidance, you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law.
Before you open your workplace, it is important to check for any specific requirements for your industry or seek professional advice. The requirements are continuing to evolve, so it is essential you keep up to date.
Carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment
Your starting point should always be to carry out a thorough risk assessment to identify how you can protect your workforce. Failure to do so could put you in breach of health and safety law.
Your risk assessment should include a comprehensive review of:
- washing facilities
- cleaning procedures
- social distancing
- wearing of masks
- work policy on managing employees who are unwell or socially distancing
- provision for testing
- vaccination policy
Managing Covid hygiene in the workplace
Handwashing and hand sanitiser
Handwashing and use of hand sanitiser are central to keeping your workplace Covid-secure. The current guidance is to ensure you have ample hand washing facilities, along with soap and paper towels. You should also consider setting up hand sanitiser stations in addition to washroom facilities, particularly in areas where hand washing is not possible (e.g. entry points, delivery points, etc.)
Other workplace hygiene strategies
Signs and posters should be displayed to encourage and explain good hygiene, such as hand washing techniques. Workers should be discouraged from shaking hands, encouraged to wash their hands often and take care to sneeze into a sleeve or tissue which should be disposed of quickly. The sharing of utensils such as pens, touch screens, milk cartons, and refreshments should be discouraged.
Cleaning the workplace
Review your current cleaning regime. Do you need to clean more frequently, or clean additional areas not previously cleaned? You should consider a regime that includes deep cleaning (a thorough clean of all frequently touched surfaces at least once a day) and periodic cleaning (cleaning at different times throughout the day).
Every workplace will be different, but you should probably clean more frequently, ensure surfaces are kept clean and tidy, and clean workspaces and equipment between different users whenever possible.
You will also need to identify contact hotspots such as frequently touched surfaces like:
- lift buttons
- drinks dispensers
- control panels
- kitchen equipment
- touch screens and keyboards
- post and deliveries.
If you cannot ensure these are cleaned after every use, ensure they are cleaned as frequently as possible. Workstations should be cleared and cleaned at the end of each day.
Remember: if you have a known or suspected case of COVID-19 in your workplace, there is specific government advice that needs to be followed.
Social distancing and ventilation
Where possible, you should keep people 2 metres apart. If this is not possible, consider alternative safety measures. Anyone who can work from home should do so for now.
The rules governing social distancing may be slightly different in England, Wales, and Scotland, so you should always check regional advice. There are also different rules for different industries, so prioritise finding out what applies to your workplace.
Wearing of masks
Remind visitors to wear face coverings when required to do so by law. However, there are some exemptions, so check first.
You will need to ensure that workers and visitors who feel unwell stay at home. Be aware that you may not force a self-isolating employee to come into work.
Regular symptomatic testing
Consider arranging for staff who cannot work from home to be tested regularly. Free test kits will be available from the government until the end of June.
After April 12th, businesses yet to register an interest will still be able to access the tests, but they will be available via private providers and community testing sites.
Encourage workers to take part in the NHS Test and Trace programme, and keep a record of all staff and contractors for 21 days.
The government cannot force people to have a vaccination. Whether or not you can require your workers to have the vaccine before returning to work is currently a grey area.
There may be some circumstances, such as in care homes, where mandatory vaccination is acceptable. However, employers should seek advice first before considering this option because there are several other employment issues involved.
As an alternative, employers should encourage and facilitate vaccination. Consider giving paid time off work to be vaccinated or paid sick leave in the event of vaccine side effects. Ensure your workers have up-to-date and accurate information about the vaccination programme.
Finding legal advice on workplace hygiene
Legislation surrounding workplace hygiene will continue to evolve in the months ahead. It is essential as an employer that you keep up to date with the requirements.
If you would like more advice on the legal duties of employers as the roadmap out of lockdown progresses, our general guidance is an excellent starting point.
If you still have specific questions, feel free to get in touch with our team of experienced employment solicitors.