THIS ARTICLE OUTLINES THE GOVERNMENT'S UPDATED SAFETY ADVICE RELATING TO Performing Arts in England.
The government has updated its guidance to help ensure safety during the pandemic. Under the new guidance, from 11 July, outdoor performances can take place in front of a live audience. Indoor rehearsals can also now take place provided the venue is COVID-19 secure and the government has permitted smaller – scale indoor performances to be piloted in COVID – 19 secure venues. It should be noted that the Government has provisionally indicated that indoor performances before a live audience will be permitted from 1 August. The current guidance applies to those who engage in activities in the performing arts including but not limited to performers (actors, singers, dancers, musicians etc), coaches, support workers, choreographers, costume designers, set builds, accompanists, directors, stage managers and other creative, technical and operation production team members; and to the premises and venues in which performing arts activities take place. It applies to training, rehearsal and pre-productive activities, and performances which take place without a live audience, wherever these activities take place. The guidance does not replace existing health and safety duties, but it should be considered by employers, employees and clients and customers of the leisure and hospitality sectors, when assessing risk and implementing control measures. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect workers, customers, volunteers and others from risks to their health and safety.
Thinking About & Managing Risk
Employers must carry out a COVID – 19 risk assessment (which must be shared with employees after consultation and where possible should be published on a business' website). Employers must take preventative measures. Failure to do so may lead to enforcement action. That means working through the steps in the guide in order, i.e. ensuring workers and clients who feel unwell stay at home, increasing hand washing/surface cleaning, making every reasonable effort to work from home where possible and where working from home is not possible to comply with social distancing (2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, is acceptable). Mitigating measures include increasing cleaning, providing sufficient PPE, reducing activity time, using screens or barriers (including at points of service), using fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then employers will need to assess whether the activity can safely proceed. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe environment. Any measures that are put in place must be reviewed to ensure they are working. Employers are expected to demonstrate this by displaying a notification in a prominent place in the business and on their website. Employers should also consider the security implications of any decisions and control measures they intend to put in place.
The guide's current assessment is that both singing and playing wind or brass instruments carries a potential higher risk of transmission. Non –Professionals should not engage in singing or playing wind or brass instruments with other people as these activities pose a potentially higher risk of transmission.
Keeping employees and visitors safe
Performers, production staff and customers should maintain social distancing before, during and after a performance, including rehearsals. It may be necessary to reduce group and cast sizes to ensure social distancing guidelines are met. Technology solutions may be required to reduce interaction and to ensure social distancing. Further guidance will be issued on singing and playing wind and brass instruments as these areas are considered high risk.
Steps that will usually be needed include limiting performances to professionals only, ensuring that only a small number of performers are performing at any one time to reduce the risk of transmissions, carrying out auditions/casting online or via self- taping, changing call schedules so that only those required are on – site, not permitting visitors back stage, asking performers to do their own hair and make – up where possible. Guidance is also given on crowd control, minimising the risk of transmission through cloakrooms and concession stands.
Employers are expected to assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for data if needed so that clusters or outbreaks can be contained. Many organisations that take bookings already have systems for recording their customers and visitors, e.g. through ticket sales. More guidance on NHS Test and Trace can be found here.
Who should go to work?
Everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home. Employers should consider who needs to go to work as well as how to protect those at higher risk. The guide sets out steps to consider including planning for minimum numbers, monitoring of staff, protecting those at higher risk and considering whether casting, training, rehearsals or performances can take place via digital channels.
Social distancing at work
The guide sets out detailed actions to maintain 2m social distancing (or 1m plus with risk mitigation, where 2m is not viable), including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling between sites as well as how to reduce risk when the guidelines cannot be followed in full including reducing activity time, using screens, the use of fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. For performing arts, social distancing may be impractical due to the degree of proximity required (certain theatre scenes, dancing, costume fitting, hair and make – up) and guidance is given on how fixed teams would operate in these scenarios.
Cleaning and sanitising the workplace
The guide considers how to ensure that any site or location that has been closed is clean and ready to restart; how to keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces; how to ensure the highest hygiene standards are operated when handling props, musical instruments and technical equipment; how to help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day; how to minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms, showers and communal areas and how to reduce transmission through contact with objects and vehicles. Steps that workers are encouraged to take include cleaning shared equipment before use and cleaning performance spaces very frequently, typically between each performance.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Face Coverings
Where workers are already using PPE to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, they should continue to do so – additional (or any) PPE beyond what is usually worn is not beneficial. Employers should not require or encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 in most circumstances. Whilst wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure against transmission by an asymptomatic carrier, wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace (although note the current guidance around members of the public wearing masks in enclosed spaces and forthcoming mandatory requirement to wear face masks for the public in shops and supermarkets from 24 July 2020). Employers should support their workers and customers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. If an employee does choose to wear a face covering, they should wash their hands before putting them on and before and after taking them off. Wearing a face covering is compulsory on public transport.
Where to obtain further guidance
The government guidance recommends the following sources in order to obtain further guidance for employers and employees:
- COVID-19: What you need to do
- Support for businesses and employers during coronavirus (COVID-19)
- General guidance for employees during coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Social distancing and sports at grassroots and community level
- UKactive guidance, toolkits and resources for facilities
- CIMPSA guidance, toolkits and resources for supporting the workforce