LGA workforce update: Government guidance on safe working

We will monitor this guidance and update it when necessary. This update was last reviewed on 12 May 2020.

The Government published its recovery strategy on 11 May setting out incremental phases for reopening the economy and society as the danger from the COVID-19 pandemic is deemed to recede.

The Recovering Strategy refers to a suite of ‘COVID-19 Secure’ guidelines for individual types of public space, including workplaces. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) subsequently issued guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.  

This guidance is split into types of workplace: 

Following the BEIS guidance, the Department for Education (DfE) also published guidance relating to the education sector. The TUC gave a cautious welcome to the BEIS guidance while unions expressed significant concerns around the DfE suggestion that there would be a phased reopening of schools in June.

BEIS guidance overview

There are some general provisions in the BEIS guidance that are common to all areas (geographically the guidance relates to England specifically as public health is devolved in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland):

  • working from home remains the default option where possible
  • every reasonable effort should be made to comply with social distancing guidelines at all times and risks mitigated where this is not possible
  • existing health and safety law requires employers to provide a safe workplace and this guidance does not override this or other health and safety requirements
  • equalities and employment law requirements apply to the provisions in this guidance and should be considered at all times
  • as with previous government guidance it is envisaged that this will also be reviewed and updated regularly so employers should check for updated guidance
  • guidance is non statutory and covers workers, contractors and others as well as employees.

Risk assessments

Employers must carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment (in conjunction with unions/employees).

Employers of more than 50 workers are expected to publish their risk assessments on their websites and display a notice.

Risk assessments should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19:

  • clinically extremely vulnerable individuals remain strongly advised not to work outside the home.
  • clinically vulnerable individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness need to take extra care in observing social distancing and should be helped to work from home, either in their current role or in an alternative role.  If they cannot work from home the safest available role can be considered for them and assessed to determine the acceptability of that risk. 
  • if suitable roles cannot be found, suspension on full pay may be required.
  • guidance says that particular attention should also be paid to people living with extremely vulnerable individuals but no detail is provided.

Before reopening sites that have been closed, the guidance says employers should ensure any site or location that has been closed or partially operated is clean and ready to restart, including:

  • an assessment for all sites, or parts of sites, that have been closed, before restarting work
  • carrying out cleaning procedures and providing hand sanitiser before restarting work.

This guidance makes no further comments on staff that may be at more risk than others from the virus; for information, NHS Employers have produced this information on further considerations for risk assessments.

Other provisions

Face coverings are not required in the workplace but employers should support workers if they choose to wear one.

Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 outside clinical settings or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Shift groups or teams should where possible be fixed to reduce the breadth of exposure to different people.

Working hours may need to be staggered to limit contact between workers.

Workplaces should be thoroughly cleaned regularly, including before workplaces are reopened.

Communication with workers and their representatives should be ongoing to monitor the impact of measures taken and ensure all workers are up to date with safety measures.

General objectives as set out in the guidance on offices and call centres but largely common to other sectoral guidance:

  • to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling between sites
  • to maintain social distancing wherever possible, on arrival and departure and to ensure handwashing upon arrival
  • to maintain social distancing wherever possible while people travel through the workplace
  • to maintain social distancing between individuals when they are at their workstations
  • to reduce transmission due to face-to-face meetings and maintain social distancing in meetings
  • to maintain social distancing while using common areas
  • to prioritise safety during incidents
  • to keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces
  • to help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day
  • to minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers
  • to reduce transmission through contact with objects that come into the workplace and vehicles at the worksite
  • to avoid unnecessary work travel and keep people safe when they do need to travel between locations.

DFE guidance overview

Alongside the workplace guidance, DfE also published information on potential preparations for a phased reopening of schools from 1 June 2020.

Effective infection protection and control

Unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff. Schools should therefore work through the hierarchy of measures set out below:

  • avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms
  • frequent hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices
  • regular cleaning of settings
  • minimising contact and mixing.

Children and young people who have been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable due to pre-existing medical conditions are not expected to be attending school or college.

Where stringent social distancing cannot be adhered to, we do not expect those individuals (child, young person or staff member lives in a household with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable, as set out in the COVID-19: guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable guidance) to attend. They should be supported to learn or work at home.  If a child, young person or a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting.

Face coverings

Schools and other education or childcare settings should not require staff, children and learners to wear face coverings.

The majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others.

If a child, young person or other learner becomes unwell with symptoms of coronavirus while in their setting and needs direct personal care until they can return home, a face mask should be worn by the supervising adult if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained.

Education, childcare and children’s social care settings and providers should use their local supply chains to obtain PPE. Where this is not possible, and there is unmet urgent need for PPE in order to operate safely, they may approach their nearest local resilience forum.

Risk assessments

Schools are advised to refresh their risk assessments and other health and safety advice for children, young people and staff in light of recent government advice, identifying protective measures, and to ensure that all health and safety compliance checks have been undertaken before opening.

Guidance relating to risk assessments for children and young people with complex needs was published earlier this month as hasn’t changed but is expected to be reviewed before the end of May.

Schools will need to make a significant number of changes to the organisation of classes, staff, school transport and facilities management, examples are laid out in the guidance.  If necessary, settings have the flexibility to focus first on continuing to provide places for priority groups and then, to support children’s early learning, settings should prioritise groups of children as follows:

  • early years settings - 3 and 4 year olds followed by younger age groups
  • infant schools - nursery (where applicable) and reception
  • primary schools - nursery (where applicable), reception and year 1.

Solutions might involve children attending a nearby school.

The education trade unions are expected to make a joint statement on the DfE guidance on 12 May, having expressed deep concerns over the suggestion that schools could potentially reopen from 1 June.