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Returning your workforce: Checklist of regulatory considerations

11 May 2020
As the UK prepares to return to work as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, our checklist will enable you to assess and control the risks for your business as lockdown measures are eased.

In some cases there are new legal requirements such as mandatory social distancing and in others there is substantial new guidance to consider as we move start to reopen business. COVID raises business interruption issues unlike any we have faced in the past. To mitigate risk you should:

  1. Review and implement any relevant Government guidance, while mostly just guidance it will be the starting point for any regulator;
  2. Review and update your COVID Risk Assesment in light of the information below; 
  3. Consider what BAU processes need to change in light of this or what 'back to work' refresher training would be necessary to get people working again;
  4. Consider what (if any) information about your COVID response that you wish to publish; and
  5. Keep up to date with the changing guidance and update risk assessments as you go. 

While circumstances may now be different, the core obligation to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare of employees and the safety of non-employees remains.  As does the obligation to risk assess and implement relevant control measures where the risk concerned cannot be mitigated.  

The specific measures that should be considered and implemented will vary by location and business activity.  To assist you with that assessment, we address the 19 key topics clients ask us about to help you with implementing the new normal. 

1. Where in the UK you have workers makes a difference

The laws and guidance are specific to the different parts of the UK, the law in England is different to Wales (e.g. in Wales the 2m social distancing obligation has been enshrined into law for businesses to follow, it also has different guidance on when it might not be possible to follow this). While a one size fits all approach makes management easier, it is necessary to understand the local nuances to avoid local problems. 

2. Can people continue to work from home? 

While we are working towards society reopening, as of 11 May, it remains the case that everyone should work from home if they can do so, this in turn helps manage your corporate COVID risk.  

If you have home workers you will need to consider some of the risks associated with that work, for example, for example:

- Mental health / occupational stress: consider support and guidance that you can offer your employees. How can you encourage employees to stay in touch (e.g. through video conferencing and regular meetings)? How can you offer support with additional stresses caused by homeworking? 

- The equipment provided: you could provide employees with advice on completing their own basic workstation and display screen equipment (DSE) assessment at home. You may also need to consider what additional equipment employees will require (e.g. a keyboard or mouse). 

- Lone worker issues: there will always be greater risks for lone workers with no direct supervision.

3. Do you have any clinically vulnerable employees, clinically extremely vulnerable employees or employees whose family fall into one of these categories?

These groups should work at home.  Where the clinically vulnerable cannot work at home they should only work on site if it is safe to do so. It is likely that you will need to conduct a person specific risk assessment and you will need to assess whether or not it is safe for that employee to be at work. This may be difficult if the employee has not notified you that they are vulnerable.   

There are both data and employment issues such as in relation to equality: View our employment checklist > View our data protection checklist > 

4. When people return to your premises, have you worked through the steps that the government recommends as part of your COVID risk assessment?

The English sector guidance released to date includes clear guidance on managing risk.  It states that employers should be working through these steps in order:

  • In every workplace, increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  • Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government (keeping people 2m apart wherever possible).
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.
  • Further mitigating actions include:

o Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.

o Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.

o Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible. 

o Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).

  • Finally, if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.
  • In your assessment you should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

While this guidance is not law, as a bare minimum you will need to have demonstrated that these measures have been considered an implemented where possible.  Any regulator or employee will expect to see these measures in place or to understand what equally effective alternative you have used because the one prescribed is not reasonably practicable. 

5. How have you implemented social distancing at your premises? 

In Wales it is mandatory to take reasonable measures to so that workers can maintain 2 metres distance from one another and to ensure that the number of persons admitted is sufficiently small to make it possible to maintain that distance.  Welsh Government guidance explains that this however does not require all employers to enforce 2 metres distance between all workers all of the time. This is different to England where the duties applying at work are not as prescriptive.

  • Will your your existing premises layout allow 2m gaps to be maintained?  To assist with this, can you work back to back/side to side rather than face to face? Can screens be inserted to protect people/create a distance? If so, make sure that they are suitable for the work environment and do not introduce a new hazard!    
  • Is it impossible to implement social distancing? Consider first if that activity is mandatory - could you stop it or do it differently. If not, what steps can you put in place to mitigate the risk?

- Reduce the number of people present or stagger shifts and start times to reduce the people density in the area. 

- Reduce the need to move around the building. Just like working at home, consider if you can use calls and video chats rather than moving. 

- If you need to move how think about how you ensure 2m gaps are retained:  In locations where queues might occur think about marking out 2 meter gaps on the floor. Where you need to pass through doors consider placing hand sanitiser and regular cleaning.

- Consider if there are bottlenecks in your premises:  To reduce pedestrian flow can you stagger start times and break times? Would a one-way system help reduce risks in canteen? If you cannot use them safely, consider other options for food.

- Think about high traffic areas: areas like lifts and toilets/sinks where people may need to pass by each other in relatively confined spaces. In lifts the recommendation is to 1) dramatically reduce numbers 2) have passengers travelling back to back 3) give priority to those who cannot use the stairs. Given capacity numbers will be limited, for most stairs will be a better option so you may wish to consider up and down lanes on staircases to ensure that people can pass safely? 

The English Guidance also includes a range of other measures that could be implemented to address social distancing.

6. Do I need to monitor employees health and well-being or do temperature checks/health screening before they work? 

This is a difficult area. While it may feel like a good idea to conduct temperature checks or health screenings – this is fraught with privacy and data risk. There is no mandatory obligation to conduct temperature checks or other detailed health data on all employees, so proceed with extreme caution here.  

You will however need to consider how people should report that they have symptoms as this may be a different process to your usual sickness reporting measures. You should also consider how that data is managed and what you then do as a result to implement isolation and appropriate additional cleaning measures to mitigate a risk. 

7. What about people who are sick and have symptoms or live with someone who is? 

They should follow the government's guidance regarding self-isolation. It may be that they can work from home, if appropriate, but if not then the usual rules regarding being signed off sick apply. You will also then need to consider whether any other employees they have come into contact with may be impacted. 

8. What about visitors and contractors?

Where possible only admit them if their visit is essential, and keep numbers to a minimum.  If the visit is essential, for example when carrying out emergency repairs, ensure social distancing is maintained and any supervisor of their work respects this. Avoid contact and provide post-work sign off remotely. 

9. Travel for work

While this should be kept to a minimum, and remote options used first, it is still possible to travel between sites or locations. This should be risk assessed and should only be carried out by private vehicle and not by public transport if at all possible.  If the journey could be avoided, it should be.  

10. Do you need PPE? 

The government guidance is that you only need PPE if you currently use it, as being greater than 2m from people mitigates the need for PPE. The English government is clear that additional precautionary use of PPE should not be encouraged unless there is a suspected COVID case.   Your risk assessment should address this.

Any PPE supplied – which includes anything given to the wearer to protect against a hazard - must comply with the PPE regulations, fit the wearer and be supplied with the necessary training and instruction. The government has suggested that certain circumstances may justify the use of "face coverings", which it says are not PPE. You should have a policy that considers the use of face coverings and how they can safely be used in a work environment. Given the government is encouraging people to make these at home from old t-shirts etc it is likely that we will start to see issues around the appropriateness of a covering selected as a parallel safety issue. 

11. What processes need to change to manage the risk? Do existing processes and risk assessments need updating? 

You may choose to do things differently after COVID, considering each step in the working process and considering what might need adjustment in areas such as how meetings and training are delivered how you deal with deliveries and helping with customer queries. 

If you change measures don't forget to update the procedures, any relevant risk assessment and train staff on new measures. 

Changes in process to reduce the need to touch things as far as is possible should be considered., e.g. communal keypads/ keyboards, phones, work equipment etc. will all need to have new cleaning routines around them.    

12. Have you increased the frequency and depth of cleaning? 

COVID potentially remains on surfaces for days, therefore it is important to ensure that cleaning regimes are increased in order to minimise the prospect of potential transfer. Risk is particularly high when businesses "hot desk" or use communal equipment.  To reduce what needs to be cleaned consider removing unnecessary communal items.

13. Do you have adequate handwashing facilities/sanitiser?

Hand washing is central to stopping the spread of the virus. You will need to ensure that you have considered where the highest risk areas are for cross contamination and ensure that they have access to additional hand washing/sanitising. 

14. Are particular groups of employees at risk? 

There will be some activities that inherently require two people to be together – for example lifting a heavy item or delivering first aid.  If the activity cannot be replaced by a mechanical aid to allow it to be conducted without contact, then consider how the risk can be minimised through use of PPE or limiting expose. 

One group of employees who may be at higher risk are your first aiders, as they may end up in close contact with an ill or infected person. Review your first aid training and policies, and ensure that your first aiders understand what they are expected to do in the event of an incident - in particular what PPE is available to them and how it should be used as well how to mitigate risk when dealing with a patient. 

Practical steps for returning to the workplace

15. Refreshing or training returning staff

As processes are likely to have substantially changed, it will be necessary to train people on what they are required to do. As always record keeping will be key, but ideally this should also be conducted remotely or at least at a distance. Where people are redeployed to alternative roles because of COVID, there will need to be training in place to ensure that they can do that role safely. 

16. What increased hygiene and validation measures need to be implemented to reopen?

If you have been closed for some time, you are likely to need to engage a cleaning contractor to ensure that the workplace is ready to reopen. In particular, pest control contractors and similar hygiene issues need to be considered.  

17. Are your maintenance checks and logs up to date?

In order to manage more everyday risks, it is necessary to ensure that certain checks are regularly conducted. Where premises have been closed for some time, it may be necessary to have equipment checked or recommissioned before use, examples include:

a. Lifting equipment checks
b. Water safety for legionella
c. Fire safety/alarms 
d. Any work equipment which needs recommissioning before it can be started 

18. How are you going to communicate this to employees and check that everything is working? 

Do you need new signage - particularly regarding distancing and handwashing?  Updated monitoring checks for the new policies? Consider who will implement this.   Also consider how you will engage with employees so that they feel safe and cared for. 

19. Finally, don't forget the basics

Your Risk assessment must be documented. The government expects that business with more than 50 employees will publish the risk assessment on their website.  Where it is not reasonably practicable to implement a certain measure, for example inserting social distancing screening on a production line. We would recommend recording the reasons why that measure was not practicable and what alternative measure that you've put in place. You do not need to conduct social distancing in an emergency. If there is a fire – evacuate safely and efficiently. 

If you would like to understand what your business needs to consider from a data perspective please view our data checklist > 

If you would like to understand what your business needs to consider from an employment perspective please view our employment checklist > 

Webinar recording: Managing your workplace post-lockdown
As the UK prepares for a "new normal" and the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, our data protection, employment and regulatory experts guide you through how to get back to business safely. View the recording > 

Further Reading