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COVID-19 Update – what does it mean to be 'COVID-secure'?

02 September 2020
The Government and the Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") have published a lot of guidance over the past few months on how to make workplaces safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. Whilst the guidance still indicates that working from home should be the preference, where this is not possible, employers are being encouraged to ensure their workplace is 'COVID-secure'.

The term 'COVID-secure' is concerning, namely because it seems to impose unfair standards on businesses (i.e. can a workplace ever truly be made 'safe' or 'secure' from a global pandemic?).

Nevertheless, the term is used throughout Government and HSE guidance and is the standard that businesses are being held to.

The HSE has said that being 'COVID-secure' means "businesses need to put in place workplace adjustments to manage the risk and protect workers and others from coronavirus". Businesses have been provided with five practical steps in order to do this:

  1. carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment;
  2. develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures;
  3. help people to work from home;
  4. maintain 2m social distancing, where possible; and
  5. where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk.

In order to ensure compliance with these guidelines, HSE inspectors have been visiting businesses and carrying out spot checks.  They have also been utilising other ways to get information, such as by making phone calls and collecting supporting visual evidence such as photos and video footage.

HSE inspectors have found that there have been some common issues identified from inspections, for example, businesses have often been failing to provide arrangements for monitoring, supervising and maintaining social distancing, failing to introduce an adequate cleaning regime and failing to provide access to welfare facilities to allow employees to frequently wash their hands with warm water and soap.

The HSE have stated that they aim to support businesses by providing advice and guidance, however they have also stated that they will take further action where needs be, for example by providing specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, stopping certain work practices until they are made safe and potentially prosecuting businesses.  It would not be surprising, however, if societal pressures (and the pressures of a £14 million budget increase) encourage the HSE to start taking more serious enforcement action more quickly.

If your business would like guidance about what it means to be 'COVID-secure', or if your business is facing enforcement action, please get in touch with one of the contacts below.

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