For many of us, Autumn 2021 will be the first time we returned to the workplace in a formal capacity for over 18 months.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, businesses have had to adapt to an ever-changing set of circumstances. With the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out and relaxation of a large portion of the mandatory controls (in England, Wales, and Scotland), business can, for the first time, start to plan for the medium and long-term.
But what are the rules and what should businesses do?
‘A Time of Constant Change And Differing Approaches By The Administrations’
Although the vast majority of restrictions in England, Wales and Scotland have been lifted, some very important mandatory requirements have stayed.
In England, Wales and Scotland, rules regarding self-isolation remains in law and must be followed as a mandatory requirement.
However, in Scotland, face coverings continue to be an important, and mandatory, control measure.
Face Coverings in Scotland
In Scotland, face coverings must be worn –
- in any indoor communal area in a workplace and….
- where there are no measures in place to keep people separated by either a partition or distance of at least 1 metre.
Communal areas in the workplace are those where people mingle or gather, e.g.
- entrances and exits to buildings
- open-plan offices (where people are moving around)
- staff rooms
- training rooms
- changing rooms
If employees choose to wear a face covering in the workplace, even when seated at desks, then they should be supported to do so by employers.
Face Coverings in England and Wales
In England and Wales, face coverings are GONE!…..but are not forgotten.
Just because the legal requirement has gone, this has not led to a wholesale abandonment of the use of face coverings in England and Wales.
For example, face coverings must be worn for the full duration of journeys on the Transport for London network, including inside stations and bus stations. Other businesses are retaining their own requirements for the use of face coverings too.
Health and safety should always strive for best practice (‘caution and restraint’). As such, we recommend that where UK companies have workplaces in Scotland and England and Wales, these companies base their policies on the requirements with the higher standard (i.e., Scotland).
NHS Test and Protect (Scotland) / NHS Test and Trace (England & Wales)
Regardless of location, everyone must continue to follow the Test and Protect / Test and Trace rules and guidance –
You must stay at home if you have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19, even if you have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination.
However, there are some limited exemptions –
- People will no longer need to self-isolate for ten days if they are identified as a close contact if they –
- have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination under a UK Government programme (and 2 weeks have passed since receiving the second dose), or are under 18; and
- are asymptomatic; and
- return a negative PCR test.
In addition to the mandatory controls imposed by law, administrations in England, Wales and Scotland have also set out a list of precautionary measures, as guidance to businesses.
When we look at that list of precautionary measures the good news is we are already doing most of what is suggested –
- COVID-19 Risk Assessments – we should already have these in place, with all control measures implemented, but the guidance now states that this should be reviewed every three weeks
- Vaccinations – you should encourage staff members to get vaccinations, offering paid leave to attend vaccination centres during working hours. It is also encouraged to distribute NHS information about vaccinations – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-vaccine/
- Enhanced hygiene measures – we should continue to ensure enhanced hygiene measures are implemented and followed within the workplace, and these can include –
- providing access to sanitiser and hand-washing facilities;
- regular cleaning of work equipment, chairs and workstations;
- regular cleaning and sanitising of break out areas;
- if sneezing or coughing around other people, do so into a tissue, handkerchief or your elbow.
Why is ventilation (or lack of) an issue?
Adequate ventilation reduces how much virus is in the air and helps reduce the risk from aerosol transmission.
Aerosol transmission can happen when someone breathes in small particles in the air (aerosols) after a person with the virus has been in the same enclosed area.
The risk from aerosols is greater in areas that are poorly ventilated.
Although ventilation reduces the risk from aerosols, it has minimal impact on:
- droplet transmission (from people being in close contact)
- contact transmission (touching surfaces)
Providing a source of fresh air to employees is key and some simple measures to take include –
- opening of windows and doors that do not need to remain closed for other purposes (e.g., internal fire doors);
- using indoor fans in combination with open doors or windows to further increase air movement;
- using specialised window fans, box fans or tower fans that can be placed in front of a window;
- facing fans toward the window (blowing air out of the window) or away from the window (blowing air into the room); and
- operating mechanical ventilation systems at the maximum design flow rate, even if a space has a lower occupancy than the maximum permitted.
Working from Home / Hybrid Working
Some form of hybrid working/remote working is here to stay for the foreseeable future. It is crucial that we have those staff consultations and well-being discussions and also consider the business needs – we just have to find the right balance.
In Scotland, we see these work patterns as an important mitigation to controlling the virus. Businesses are encouraged to continue to support staff to work from home where possible and appropriate.
In England and Wales, the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. However, the government expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer and autumn.
The continuous review and changes made to government requirements and guidance, and with differences between the different administrations have felt like a set of constantly shifting goal posts over the last 18 months.
With the mass roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines across the UK, it is only now starting to feel like we are returning to some form of normality and people can begin to return to the workplace.
However, we should tread carefully, and ensure any return to the workplace is carefully planned and gradual. Businesses are still required to maintain their COVID-19 risk assessments and review these every 3 weeks, in line with updates from the UK and Scottish government guidance.
Do you need any help in writing or reviewing your COVID-19 risk assessment? Please contact Armour Risk Consulting for a free consultation at email@example.com or on 0131 516 1767.