HSE Covid-19 Spot Checks
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continues to carry out spot checks and inspections by calling, visiting and inspecting all types of businesses in most areas in England to ensure they are continuing to work safely during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The primary purpose of the checks is to ensure that businesses are continuing to take appropriate measures to manage the effects of Covid-19 in the workplace, in spite of most restrictions having been removed on 19 July 2021.
The current spot-check guidance, which can be found here: Health and safety spot checks and inspections during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (hse.gov.uk) is due to be reviewed this coming Sunday but is unlikely that the guidance will be relaxed in any way. With talks of the possible return of face masks and murmurings of Winter lock downs, it seems that the HSE will look to take a stricter approach if anything.
In terms of the checks themselves, we have been made aware only this week that as well as looking at those physical measures which businesses have put in place (e.g. social distancing, hand sanitising), the HSE are also giving significant attention to what measures employers are taking in respect of the mental health of its employees. The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 does include the protection of employee mental health and the current Spot Check guidance does also make it clear that this is an area where employers have obligations. The guidance includes a dedicated section on ‘Stress, wellbeing and providing support’ and notes the general upsurge in mental health issues across the population since the onset of the pandemic. The guidance provides some specific guidance on stress and mental health which, in the event of a spot check, an employer may be asked to show they have implemented.
In particular the guidance references:
- Having regular keep-in-touch meetings or calls with your workers
- Talking openly with workers about the possibility of them becoming stressed or mentally unwell.
- Involving workers in completing stress risk assessments so they can help identify potential problems and solutions
- Keeping workers updated on what is happening so they feel involved and reassured
- Talking to people about fatigue. Making sure they take regular breaks and encouraging them to take leave – setting working times to make sure people aren’t working too long
- Sharing information and advice about mental health and wellbeing with your workers
- Considering an occupational health referral if someone starts to show signs of stress or anxiety so they can talk through ways you can support them.
The guidance also includes some questions which employers can ask to help them support their workers’ wellbeing which sits alongside the HSE advice on stress and mental health.
Whilst it is probably fair to say that most employers do consider their employee’s mental wellbeing and take steps to manage any concerns which they may have about feeling stressed, it may be that good intention and unaudited management processes are insufficient to meet with the HSE’s current requirements. Policy documentation setting out a businesses’ intentions and providing explanation as to how they will be proactive in terms of managing mental health issues, whether from a Health & Safety perspective or, an Employment Law perspective is advisable. As is, ensuring that you are able to demonstrate a genuine and ongoing channel of communication with your employees during this time.
In the event that you would like to discuss the obligations on you as an employer in particular context or, you would like some advice on your existing policy documentation then please do not hesitate to contact us on 01274 864999. Both our Health & Safety and Employment Teams will be more than happy to assist.