The advice from the government is simple. Those who can work from home, should work from home. We know that is not possible for everyone, particularly our key workers.
So if you do still have to go to work, what should your employers be doing for you to ensure your health and safety? There are specific responsibilities placed upon your employer to ensure your safety at work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The specific public health guidance issued to employers amidst the pandemic states that employers must:
- Ensure there are appropriate facilities for employees to wash their hands for 20 seconds (with soap and water or hand sanitiser gel) more frequently than normal;
- Provide facilities to ensure frequent cleansing and disinfecting of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly;
- Provide the necessary work arrangements to enable compliance with social distancing.
As well as the specific public health guidance, your employers also have duties under health and safety legislation. Of current interest are the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
The term ‘PPE’ has been frequently used since the outbreak of the pandemic and refers to equipment needed to protect employees. Turning to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, it would be prudent to determine what is defined as “equipment”. This definition is contained within Regulation 2(1) as “‘all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work and which protects him against one or more risks to his health or safety, and any addition or accessory designed to meet that objective”.
Under Regulation 4, your employer must ensure that “suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.”
These regulations are not COVID-19 specific, but they are important in the midst of this pandemic. In essence, your employers must comply with the regulations and ensure the following measures, amongst others, are taken:
- That suitable personal protective equipment is provided;
- Importantly that the equipment provided fits the employee;
- The equipment is in line with design specification; and
- The equipment is provided in accordance with the specific risks of the task being carried out.
The issue of an employer assessing the risk of the task being carried out can be found within the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Regulation 3(i)(a) states that “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work”.
Again, these regulations are not COVID-19 specific but it is clear that during the pandemic your employers must take further measures to ensure compliance with the Regulations. An employer must:
- Continue to regularly carry out risk assessments and make any necessary changes in light of the pandemic;
- Review all current risk assessments and make any changes that are necessary, in light of the current pandemic; and
- Ensure that all employees are informed of the assessments carried out, the risks identified to their health from the assessment and the measures taken by the employer to reduce the risk to employees.
Your employer must also ensure that employees or other persons are protected from the hazards of substances used at work by way of risk assessment, control of exposure of such substances and by adequate planning. The duties placed on your employer are covered by The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).
The Regulations apply to a wide range of substances which have the potential to cause harm to health if they are ingested, inhaled, absorbed or come into contact with skin or body membranes. Regulation 2 (1) includes specific definitions of those substances which are hazardous to health. These substances can occur in many forms including, but not limited to, solids, liquids, vapours and gases.
An employer, under Regulation 7 (1) “shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled”.
Where exposure of substances hazardous to health cannot reasonably be prevented by an employer, they have a duty to:
- Identify the potential hazards to health and carry out an adequate risk assessment to prevent harm;
- Provide adequate control measures to reduce harm to health and ensure that the control measures are used by employees; and
- Ensure that proper instructions and training are provided to all employees.
If you require any legal advice during these unprecedented times then please Talk To Thompsons free on 0800 0891 331.
Blog by Seonaid Brophy, Partner