The co-regulators for health and safety at work, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Local Authority Environmental Health services are applying their expertise to ensure people at work are protected and utilising the powers at their disposal under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. HSE is treating COVID-19 as a workplace health issue with regard to the protection of workers from infection. HSE can and will use the Health and Safety Work Act to ensure physical distancing in the workplace in relation to workers.
These actions will be taken under existing health and safety law (HSWA). A framework agreement between Police Scotland and local authorities supports the referral of complaints about lack of reasonable physical distancing at work to the relevant local authority. Local authorities will ensure that those complaints relevant to HSE are referred quickly.
This would, for example, cover employers not taking appropriate action to physically distance or to ensure workers can follow the NHS advice to self-isolate for a period specified. The actions enforcement agencies can take include the provision of specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements or stop certain activities until issues are resolved, or in more extreme cases prosecution.
Employers and employees should always work together to resolve issues. If concerns still cannot be resolved, employees can raise them with their trade union or workplace representative, HSE or their relevant local authority. 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 employers and trade unions or employee representatives to identify what measures are working, where refinements are possible and any gaps remaining. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent. The ongoing engagement between business and trade unions will enable adjustments to measures to be made to create a safe working environment quickly and smoothly at the relevant stage.
Employers should ensure that communication with staff on COVID-19 risks and measures for reducing the risk of transmission are refreshed to take account of any updates to guidance and ensure levels of knowledge and understanding are maintained and that messages are not becoming stale. Updates should be provided at team meetings (weekly is suggested), and reinforced through all available channels for staff communications (e.g. TV screens/digital signage, intranet and newsletters).
It is important to ensure language is not a barrier when communicating the importance of COVID-19 controls with employees. Simple, clear messaging and images should be used to explain guidelines, taking into consideration employees for which English may not be their first language and those with protected characteristics such as visual impairments. Posters, leaflets and other materials and a close contact checklist are available online which can be used to reinforce these messages throughout the workplace. NHS Inform also provides general advice on COVID-19 in a range of translated formats which will help to support employees for whom English is not their first language.