Correct as of 13 May 2020
As part of HM UK Government's COVID Recovery Strategy they are encouraging businesses in England to re-open where working from home is not possible. As part of this strategy, businesses are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the 'COVID Secure' guidance, which has now been published, in order that they can resume their activities safely as the UK moves to the next stage of dealing with the pandemic.
While this guidance has been set by the UK Government it states explicitly that it should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements and legislation in the devolved administrations. This means businesses operating across the devolved nations will have to be aware of possible national variations to the guidance, although it is hoped that these will be minor differences. However, given that in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the "Stay at Home" guidance is still being given, businesses in these nations may be well advised to wait for a change in this message before re-opening workplaces. Preparatory steps, though, can be taken in order that workplaces can be ready to be re-opened when safe and permitted.
The guidance will be updated periodically as the UK moves through the pandemic and scientific advice is updated, meaning employers are encouraged to check regularly for updates to the guidance.
In this blog we will be summarising the key considerations for employers where they have employees who are required to work in other people's homes. This could affect those carrying out maintenance or repairs, or those that offer home care services. While many of these considerations will be common sense, it will be vital for employers to take such steps to ensure the safety of their employees, and to encourage employees back to the workplace.
The first UK Government recommendation is to identify potential risks and carry out a risk assessment. Employers will be familiar with carrying out risk assessments generally, as they have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees. The requirement moving forward is to complete a specific risk assessment for COVID-19, this will mean employers have to consider applicable risks arising from the virus and potential steps employers can take to minimise those risks.
Employers are being asked to share the results of their risk assessment with their workforce, and if possible, should consider publishing the results on their website. The UK Government has also stated that they would expect all employers with over 50 workers to do so. It is unclear whether or not this request to publish will be enforced in any way - there is no mechanism for doing so at present - but employers are encouraged to share their results.
Employers face difficulties as they will not necessarily be able to see the different homes prior to employees working in them, so risk assessments will need to take account of general risks employees may face when entering homes.
The guidance states that no work should be carried out in a household which is isolating because one or more family members has symptoms or where an individual has been advised to shield unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household.
Personal hygiene is also of added importance when entering someone else's home, with the guidance highlighting handwashing and cleaning of surfaces to be of particular importance.
Who should attend work?
The second element from the guidance surrounds those who should be at work. The guidance makes clear that it will be difficult for those who work in the homes of others to work from home. It does make suggestions that some consultations prior to carrying out remedial or maintenance work could be done via video conferencing so that visits into the home are minimised and length of visits shortened.
The guidance then makes particular note of those individuals who are currently shielding because they are at higher risk from the virus. The guidance notes that these individuals should be helped to work from home, either in their current role or in an alternative role. It makes explicit mention of the Equality Act and considerations employers have with regards to expectant mothers and disabled individuals. Employers will need to be especially mindful of these groups when re-opening to ensure that the necessary adjustments are made for those individuals.
If employers are concerned in relation to their obligations under the Equality Act and how these relate to resuming their operations they are encouraged to take early advice.
The current situation is that Scotland remains locked-down more than in England and while some relaxations have been made for work in England (people returning to work where they cannot work from home and their place of work has not been closed) the situation remains tighter in Scotland, with guidance remaining that people should not open their offices, businesses, etc, unless they are involved in critical supply.
We would see this as a significant area of potential risk and challenge for employers, and so it is crucial that businesses take, and document, appropriate steps and communicate appropriately with employees.
Social distancing at work
The UK Government has stressed that where employees are required back to work that, where possible, social distancing should be maintained at all times while people are at work. This will be difficult but employees should be encouraged to maintain social distancing while in homes and messaging should be sent prior to any visit explaining to the resident of the importance of social distancing and the measures that will be taken.
Interacting with households
It is accepted that employees will interact with people while in their home so the UK Government guidance explains that it is important to have communication about this prior to sending employees into someone's home. Employers should provide workers with information about how to operate safely in people's homes. Also they should communicate with households prior to arrival, and on arrival, to ensure the household understands the social distancing and hygiene measures that should be followed once work has commenced.
Cleaning and hygiene
The UK Government has stressed the importance of cleanliness and good hygiene. Employees should ensure to clean thoroughly any area in which they have been working prior to leaving a home to ensure no surfaces have been contaminated. Furthermore staff should be encouraged to keep good hygiene throughout the working day, washing their hands regularly, bringing hand sanitiser with them to a home.
PPE and face coverings
In this guidance, the UK Government has downplayed the use of PPE outside of clinical environments, stressing that social distancing is a much more effective method of prevention than wearing PPE. It does state that if staff want to wear a face covering while at work they can do so, but this does not mean they don't have to follow other guidance. Staff should be aware of the limited benefits of face coverings and the importance of following other measures. They should continue to wear appropriate PPE for their role.
Aside from physical measures that may be taken, employers are encouraged to manage their employees effectively in order to manage a safe return to work. This will include effective communication prior to re-opening on the measures taken and behaviours expected, as well as regular communication if changes are made.
Also employers are encouraged to look at shift patterns and working groups to minimise the amount of individuals that employees have contact with. Creating distinct groups and reducing the number of contacts is seen as an effective way to manage risks. So if employees need to visit a depot or central location prior to commencing work this should be limited as much as possible as should contact with other staff whilst they visit this location.
Employers should also seek to minimise and avoid unnecessary work travel, and if travel is required, to take appropriate measures to keep people safe when they do need to travel between locations.
Deliveries to home
If as part of their operation an employer requires to make deliveries to a home, all steps should be taken to minimise contact and maintain distancing while making these deliveries.
Get in touch
If you've any queries about this, or any other employment related matter that could affect your business, our team of specialist employment lawyers can assist. Please contact us on 0131 247 2534 to discuss further.