Information about involving the workforce, including volunteers, in a risk-based approach.
- joint working
- implementation phases
- dynamic assessment
- utilising expertise
- building confidence, supporting wellbeing
As a minimum we expect:
- an equality human rights and risk-based approach to be followed to protect health and safety of the workforce and ensure the longer-term economic viability of the organisation
- the workforce to be fully engaged in that process, through trade union or workforce representatives
HSE’s short guide can help to support employers with what they need to do to comply with the law.
This guidance has been developed in collaboration with sector leaders and trade unions on the basis that both have essential roles to play in planning for restart. Protecting the health of the workforce has been at the heart of this joint approach which is fundamental to establishing shared confidence around the safety of returning to places of work and for visitors to feel assured it is safe for them to return.
Carrying out a robust risk assessment with full workforce involvement will identify the practical measures that can be put in place to minimise the spread of the virus at a workplace level and in public areas. The assessment should include a phased implementation timetable, structured broadly as follows:
Plans to re-open a workplace and public areas should be developed in consultation with the workforce and updated on an ongoing basis. That planning must be based around risk assessments and safe systems of work physical distancing, hand washing , and fair work principles and be designed to enable a restart that allows the organisation to trade while protecting employee health and well-being, and allows the organisation to fulfil its public purpose, should it have one.
Physical distancing, hygiene measures and risk assessment require work to be carried out before a restart – for example screens, one-way systems, 2-metre zones, canteen re-arrangement, PPE provision if appropriate, hand sanitisers etc. Then briefings and inductions into the new ways of working. These all take time and require resourcing and commitment.
Where premises have been empty due to lockdown and/or furlough thorough safety checks should be conducted on gas and electrical installations, water cooler and ventilation checks particularly regarding Legionella risks and pest control checks should be conducted to avoid infestation problems.
Experience confirms the value of trialling the new way of working before a fuller restart is attempted, so a limited-scale pilot to test systems, find weaknesses and make improvements before a fuller restart is essential. Pilots could include messaging to the public advising them that returning to a pre-COVID visitor experience will take time, or limited re-openings with very reduced numbers of visitors.
A risk assessment or adoption of mitigation measures should not be a one off exercise. Rather it should be part of a regular and ongoing dialogue and feedback loop between organisations and their workforce, and with the public. It should identify what measures are working, where refinements are possible and any gaps remaining. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent, with daily assessments of progress initially not unusual. The open and ongoing engagement between organisations and their workforce should enable adjustments to be made quickly and smoothly at the relevant stage. This may include potentially tightening restrictions in workplaces or public areas, or reducing numbers onsite if the dynamic risk assessments indicate this is necessary.
Organisations should ensure their health and safety professionals and representatives have the skills, training and knowledge to understand the risks associated with COVID-19. Where organisations and their workforce do not have access to these skills in-house they should together explore external support options to put in place appropriate mitigation measures, for example through their trade association, health and safety consultancies or trade union health and safety representatives. For workplaces without union representation, union health and safety representatives will be available upon request to support the development of workplace risk assessments. Further information is provided in the Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer work places joint statement. All can help organisations understand the risks associated with different activities and situations within individual organisations and offer the support managers and the workforce may require.
Returning workforce and members of the public may have some level of apprehension about how safe they may be and they may require reassurance and demonstration that measures recommended in workplace risk assessments have been put in place to ensure safety. Organisations should recognise the need to have clear and regular communications with the workforce and the public, using multiple channels to reinforce key messages. Visual material has proven to be beneficial in demonstrating changes that have or are being made, especially where language barriers exist.
A clear message from organisations and trade unions is that building and maintaining confidence of the workforce and of the public is vitally important and a challenge that should not be underestimated.