COVID update: workplace safety in Stage 4

Information for local authority employers as the COVID restrictions are removed from Monday 19 July 2021

The government has published new guidance for employers on the removal of COVID-related legal restrictions from 19 July 2021 and issued guidance for employers facing severe disruption to critical services due to self-isolation (see below).

Key elements are:

  • Working from home instruction is lifted
  • Social distancing guidance is disapplied
  • In line with health and safety requirements, risk assessments are required
  • Returns to previously closed workplaces should be discussed with relevant staff and trade unions
  • Some extra guidance is provided for regions with high Delta variant exposure

The Government guidance outlines six priority actions for employers. They are:

  1. Health & safety risk assessments
  2. Provide adequate ventilation
  3. Increase cleaning
  4. Ensure self-isolating staff do not attend a workplace
  5. Facilitate people ‘checking in’ at venues
  6. Communicate safety measures to staff and visitors

Considerations for Local Authorities as employers

For employers, the removal of the specific COVID-related legal restrictions means reviewing provisions to ensure the safety of workplaces and that the particular circumstances of staff are duly considered. This is because employers’ general duty of care to their workers remains in place, including their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related legislation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance on keeping workplaces safe as the restrictions are eased, which emphasises the need to update risk assessments. It also reminds employers that considerations around ensuring adequate ventilation, sufficient cleaning and good hand hygiene remain in place. Employers should share the results of risk assessments with their employees and their trade unions and discuss any concerns they may have. Separate workplaces should be risk assessed accordingly, e.g. offices, vehicles, depots, call centres, schools etc each of which may present their own particular challenges and may require specific COVID-related risks to be addressed.

Employers will also need to consider what steps they may need to take in respect of workers who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV). Where possible that will include allowing CEV workers to work at home, or if they need to return to the workplace, specific measures that may need to be taken. The Government has produced guidance on this, alongside HSE guidance. One key piece of advice in the Government guidance is as follows:

“Individuals may choose to limit the close contact they have with those they do not usually meet with in order to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, particularly if they are clinically extremely vulnerable and when COVID-19 disease levels in the general community are high.”

The guidance also indicates that it may be possible to place CEV individuals on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is available until 30 September 2021.

The latest joint NJC circular is now available. There is also information available with specific reference to schools.  

Self-isolation for critical workers

Where a critical service is at risk of severe disruption due to the self-isolation of close contacts, an employer can apply to the relevant government department for a dispensation from this requirement in respect of named individuals. The NHS Test and Trace in the workplace guidance provides full details. Separate guidance has been provided for employers of health and social care staff.