Coronavirus: Health and Safety

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Coronavirus: Health and Safety

Homeworking and Well-being

With many workers now operating remotely as a result of widespread Covid-19, it is important for employers to understand that they already had a duty of care under health and safety legislation towards their employees whilst homeworking, it is just that many employers may not have realised as they had no employees homeworking previously.
The current situation will no doubt have an effect on employees, therefore employers should provide advice on how to separate work and home lives and allow some flexibility.
Lone working can create feelings of isolation, which can be stressful even for those that work remotely for considerable periods, and in some circumstances having a direct impact on the employees’ mental health. Workers may have concerns about their health or feel anxious or fearful for various reasons such as the isolation of family members or job security. They may also have concerns about what to do if they become ill while working at home.
It is important for organisations of any size to establish strong lines of communication with workers during extended periods of remote working.
There will also be uncertainty around terms of employment and how stable people’s jobs are in challenging markets. When communicating with workers, it is important to take opportunities to show transparency around how your company is managing its finances to ensure workers’ jobs are protected. This can help to keep workers motivated and helps them feel supported during difficult times.
It is important for line managers to keep in regular contact with their workers, which can be done via remote working applications such as Zoom and team chat forums, as well as telephone calls and emails, and encouraging employees to use the applications ensures that regular lines of communication are maintained.
Consideration should also be made to the fact that employees may also be caring for relatives and / or children, so negotiating a ‘lifestyle arrangement’, or agreeing to rules around hours of working, shows you are empathetic to the needs of your employees. Employers will need to balance any negotiation with their existing rights under employment laws.
Senior managers and line managers should keep track of Covid-19 updates via government and health authorities and keep their workers updated on any developments, especially with any plans for returning to the physical workplace.
Employees should be encouraged to discuss any well-being/mental ill-health concerns that they may have.  This can help to alleviate symptoms and prevent them from worsening. It also allows managers the opportunity to adopt preventative measures
Employers are advised to ensure that line managers are regularly informed about the organisation’s contingency plans and how to discuss the situation with any concerned employees, and where to signpost people to for further advice or support, including employee assistance programmes if this is provided by your company and/or counselling if they are anxious.

DSE and Risk Assessments

For employees who undertake homeworking as part of their day to day work activities, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) must be controlled, including home worker / workstation assessments, which should be competed as a matter of course.
However, there is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily, therefore, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have advised that in the current situation employers do not need to do home workstation assessments, however you may wish to encourage employees to carry out their own basic assessment, using a self-completion questionnaire.
Here are some simple steps that employees can take to reduce the risks from display screen work whilst homeworking:

  • breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity if possible
  • avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
  • getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
  • avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time

As part of your statutory requirement under health and safety legislation, risk assessments should have already been recorded and communicated to employees for all activities undertaken that pose a significant risk of harm, injury or ill health, in order to ensure that you have adequate control measures in place to address and reduce the associated risks as far as is reasonably practicable.
These risk assessments should have now been reviewed as best practice, taking into consideration the additional risk to employees of contracting Covid-19 through work activities. Your additional control measures should at least mirror the current advice being provided through Public Health England, which should be regularly reviewed as circumstances are changing daily. As with any review of risk assessments, where amendments are made or additional control measures implemented, these should be recommunicated with those employees and any contractors at risk.
An example assessment has been developed and made available on the client portal (Your Precedent Documents). This can be utilised for guidance purposes only and will require amending in order to reflect your individual circumstances and activities.

Is Covid-19 reportable under RIDDOR?

The question of whether COVID-19 would be reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) has been raised.
Although employers have clear health and safety responsibilities under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) to protect workers who come into contact with infectious micro-organisms as a direct consequence of their work, and report any such instances, this does not apply where employees are exposed to a disease which is in widespread societal circulation and which may happen to have been present in the workplace as well.
For this reason, it is highly unlikely that the HSE would be able to carry out an investigation of in the event of any workplace instances.

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