The government has produced guidance to help ensure safety during the pandemic. The guides cover a range of workplaces including indoor labs and research facilitates.
Update - The Government guidance was updated on 24 June 2020 to reflect a relaxation of the 2m social distancing guidance in England to 1m plus risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, and to include references to support bubbles where relevant. The updated guidance also stresses the requirement for employers to complete a risk assessment which takes account of COVID-19.
They do not replace existing health and safety duties, but they should be considered by employers when assessing risk and implementing control measures. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety.
Thinking About and Managing Risk
Employers must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment (which should be shared with employees after consultation) and take preventative measures. That means working through steps in the guide in order i.e. increasing hand washing/surface cleaning, making every reasonable effort to work from home where possible and where not possible comply with social distancing (where that is not possible and the activity needs to continue, further actions are listed). Further mitigations include increasing cleaning, reducing activity time, using screens, 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.
The recommendations in the rest of the guide are ones employers should consider as they go through this process. They can also consider any sector specific advice e.g. from trade associations.
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 and the monitoring of staff and protecting those at higher risk.
Social distancing at work
The guide sets out detailed actions to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible, 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. The guide also suggests measures such as implementing designated entry and exit points to high risk areas such as wet labs and mechanical test sites, providing storage for workers clothes, requesting staff change into work clothing on site, washing lab clothing and equipment on site, removing access control on low category labs and introducing one way flow through buildings, paying particular attention to long corridors which are common place in lab buildings. As labs require onsite collaboration between people and frequent sharing of equipment and workstations, employers should consider how to ensure equipment is shared by the smallest number of people possible and what other measures can be put in place.
Managing your customers, visitors and contractors
The guide aims to minimise the number of unnecessary visits to the worksite and sets out steps to achieve this e.g. limiting numbers, revising schedules and how to make sure people understand what they need to do.
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 help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day; how to minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers and how to reduce transmission through contact with objects that come into the workplace and vehicles. Cleaning of work areas, objects and equipment between uses where possible should be ensured - for expensive equipment which can't be washed down, a cleaning process should be determined.
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 PPE beyond what is usually worn is not beneficial. Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 in most circumstances. Wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.
Managing your workforce
The guide advises on how to change the way work is organised to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each worker has including the use of shift patterns and working groups and during work related travel. It also deals with identifying areas where people have to directly pass things to each other and how to address this. Guidance is provided in relation to communications and training including when returning to work and ongoing communications and signage to make sure all are kept up to date with safety measures.
Inbound and outbound goods
The guide considers how to maintain social distancing and avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave the site especially in high volume situations.
Where HSE identifies employers who are not complying with guidance to control public health risks, they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks including enforcement.