It has been five months since the Government announced the end of all COVID-19 restrictions. The message at that point was that the responsibility for how to live with the virus would be placed on individuals and businesses moving forward, rather than the government enforcing COVID interventions.
According to data this week from the ZOE Covid study, it shows that the infection levels have reached a new record high. It is reported that the estimated daily infections are an average of 351,000 (in March 2022 the record levels of daily infections were 350,000).
So, what will this mean for employers? Well, even though the COVID-19 legislation was revoked back in the Spring, the government continued to encourage and advise people to continue with safe working practices, and it was down to each workplace to determine what was appropriate for their business.
Regardless of this, however, health and safety laws still required employers to protect the health, safety, and welfare of everyone in the workplace including in the management of COVID-19. This meant employers still had to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce workplace risks to their lowest level regarding COVID and so the risk assessment process remained a fundamental tool to ensure employers could do this.
With COVID-19 levels reaching their highest record of daily infections, now is a crucial time for employers to prepare for any further action that may be needed in order to ensure the ongoing health, safety, and welfare of their employees and any 3rd party that may be impacted by the business.
We have set out a 5 point plan, outlining the steps an employer should take in order to prepare itself for a continued rise in infection levels as well as any possible action that could be imposed by the Government in the future, should it need to take necessary measures again to protect the nation, and the NHS from being overwhelmed.
- Consider introducing a policy to support the management of COVID-19. Working safely with COVID remains critical especially as we begin to enter the autumn and winter when social interactions are mainly indoors and therefore likely to see an increase in infections again.
- Revisit your risk assessment to consider if any further action needs to be taken to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of your employees and set a frequency for further reviews. Give special consideration to those who are most vulnerable to the virus when reviewing the risk assessment; this includes pregnant women, those with underlying medical conditions, and the older employees in your workforce.
- Consult with your workforce on the latest COVID developments and share feedback from the updated risk assessment.
- Those who are most vulnerable, meet with them on a one-to-one basis, so that you can address any personal concerns and issues confidentially rather than in a group consultation forum. You may need to take action that is appropriate to their circumstances.
- Take action! Put in place any new measures or communicate the continuation of existing measures. Check out below what kind of measures could be introduced to manage the risk from COVID.
Suggestions for ways to manage the risk from COVID-19:
- Continue to encourage all employees to become fully vaccinated and to take up the opportunity to receive any booster jabs. Further, support this by allowing reasonable time out from the workplace to attend any appointments.
- Consider how testing will play a part in your COVID-19 response strategy. For some settings, this may need to be mandatory, and for others, it may be just a recommendation.
- Wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces or high-risk areas, especially when meeting people you don’t usually meet or when transmission levels are high.
- Support working from home wherever possible.
- Allow employees to flex their start/finish times, if they can’t work from home, in order to avoid peak travel on public transport.
- Consider operating a shift system for who is on-site on any day and who works off-site.
- Let fresh air in if you are meeting indoors or alternatively, meet outside.
- Testing when you have developed COVID-19 symptoms; stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have tested positive.
- Ensuring there are sufficient hygiene measures in place such as additional cleaning, hand sanitizer.
Key questions for employers to consider
In developing working practices and any new COVID policies, there are several key areas that will need to be assessed:
- How do you protect clinically vulnerable employees from those who may be at work whilst infected – asymptomatic or symptomatic?
- Do you expect to see higher absenteeism? Whilst the employee who has turned up for work with COVID may not have symptoms, the person they may transmit it to, may end up having them and potentially becoming seriously ill (or transmitting it to somebody at home who is clinically vulnerable). What can you do to minimise this?
- How will employees feel being at work, with infections returning to high levels?
- Are you likely to see an increase in tribunal claims because someone has refused to attend work because they reasonably believe they are in serious and imminent danger by doing so? What other employment practices need to be reviewed to mitigate against tribunal claims?
These are all genuine concerns that must be considered as part of considering how an employer responds to the rise in infection levels.
How can we help?
COVID-19 is both an HR and Health and Safety matter, so if you would advice and guidance from our HR and/or our Health and Safety teams then please contact us. We can help support your business by working with you to manage your risk assessment process, support you to develop a suitable ‘Working Safely with COVID’ Policy, as well as provide consultation to you on any particular individual situation that you may need help and support on when managing COVID.
You can contact us on 0844 324 5840.