By Sarah Albon, Chief Executive of the HSE
The coronavirus pandemic has consumed our thoughts and lives in recent months and, as measures begin to relax and the economy begins to open up again, many people are thinking more and more about what this means in terms of their livelihood and work.
As business starts to re-open and our economy starts to recover, HSE wants to make this as straightforward as possible for businesses thinking about the new risks that COVID has introduced. HSE will provide support, reassurance and, where necessary, maintain health and safety standards through enforcement.
This means as businesses adapt and workplaces change, HSE will continue to provide advice and guidance to help your business comply with health and safety law. The priority now is for your business to become COVID Secure.
So what does that mean for business, particularly SMEs? Being COVID Secure is being adaptable to the current guidelines. There are five practical steps that businesses can take to do that. The first is to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in line with HSE guidance. As an employer, you must protect your workers and others from harm.
This includes taking reasonable steps to control the risk and protect people from coronavirus. If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to write anything down, but it might help if you do. It’s important that you talk to your workers and trade unions about this and let them know what measures you’ll be taking to ensure they can work safely.
If through your risk assessment you have identified people who cannot work from home (for example people who operate machinery or work on a construction site), then you should consider what changes you might need in your workplace to reduce risk and make it COVID Secure.
This could mean managing entrances and exits, extra cleaning measures, providing additional handwashing facilities, social distancing, staggering breaks and reconfiguring seating and tables. There’s a very important part that employees have to play in making sure the guidelines are followed. Make sure you read all the guides relevant to your workplace. Each guide has specific actions for businesses to take based on these steps.
As well as providing advice and guidance for business to help them stay COVID Secure, HSE and local authority inspectors are undertaking a proactive programme of spot inspections – something that has always been part of our regulatory approach.
By using a range of means to gather intelligence and reach out to businesses, HSE is able to engage and connect with more workplaces than physical inspections alone. Our approach to spot inspections is a combination of site visits, phone calls and collecting supporting visual evidence such as photos and video footage.
All sectors are in scope for spot inspections and all businesses are obliged to engage. We will ask questions of duty holders to understand how they are managing risks. Businesses may need to provide evidence that appropriate measures are in place to protect workers from COVID-19.
We understand that the vast majority of employers want to make their workplaces secure and are doing everything they can to keep people and their business safe and healthy. HSE will support businesses by providing advice and guidance; however where some employers are not managing the risk, HSE will take action which can range from the provision of specific advice through to issuing enforcement notices.
Our approach is adaptable and regularly reviewed as workplaces in different sectors get to grips with managing coronavirus risk. You can find our regulatory statement here. If you have a specific concern or query you can find more details about how to contact HSE here.
Having a workplace that is COVID Secure will increase confidence with your employees, consumers, supply chain and local community. Becoming COVID Secure ultimately benefits our own health, your business health and economic health.