Watch the webinar
This morning’s webinar was a highly practical session. We were joined by Rick Brunt, Director of Strategy at the Health and Safety Executive, Alyn Franklin, the CEO of the Alcumus Group and, Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director at the CBI to discuss how employers can make their workplaces Covid secure.
These were the key points of the discussion:
- Updates on job retention scheme and access to finance
- How can employers safely approach a restart?
- Who is responsible for safety?
- Best practice from companies
- The lowdown on PPE, social distancing and risk assessments.
Updates on job retention scheme and access to finance
Matthew Fell kicked off the session with some quick-fire updates on the job retention scheme (JRS). The government has promised to give more information about the introduction of the partial furlough scheme and the employer contribution at the end of the month. Matthew said we should expect to see this on Thursday or Friday. He said that the CBI is “cautiously optimistic” about the start of the partial furlough scheme being brought forward. On the employer contribution, he anticipates that the employer would pay in full up to the 80% level for the days and hours where their employees are working part-time. On the days where employees are not working, he expects that the employer contribution will be somewhere in the region of 20-25%.
Access to finance has been a major talking point during these webinars for the past few weeks, there has been much discussion about the uptake of the “bounce back” loan scheme, the CBILS and the CLBILS. “The lion’s share of all of those building blocks are in place,” said Matthew.
Looking to other types of financial support, Matthew drew attention to the government’s “Project Birch” initiative which aims to support strategically critical companies that have fallen "outside of the net" of other finance schemes. He explained that the government would take an equity stake in “otherwise viable companies” that have exhausted other options for finance.
As we begin to restart the economy, it will be important to understand how these schemes will adapt, said Matthew, for example, when will loan repayments start to kick in. “The key thing for me is designing it so we don’t have a sharp and sudden cliff edge.”
How can employers safely approach a restart?
When asked about how businesses can restart in a Covid secure way, Rick Brunt, Director of Strategy at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said that it was “a question as broad as it is long” because of the great variety of businesses in the UK, both in terms of size and scale and in terms of the types of operations they have been able to conduct during this period.
On the practical side, Rick said that the most important things for all businesses to consider are social distancing and hygiene. “Ultimately, the best thing that anyone can do for controlling this is the social distancing measures,” he said. “If you can keep your cleanliness right, if you can the separation between people, if you can keep your hygiene factors right, that is most critical.”
Who is responsible for safety?
Safety and work, responsibility and liability are questions that have been challenging for government and regulators. “Normally we’re looking at risks that are created by the business managed by that business. Here we have a public health risk that is going to be manifest in the business and that the employer can have some level of control over but not in the same way they do over others,” said Rick. “We’re trying to use workplace and health and safety to cover public health risks,” he explained.
Rick noted that there’s an expectation that businesses will take responsibility for making their workplaces Covid secure as it is in their commercial interests and in the interests of the country to do so.
However, there are areas that do not fall under the jurisdiction of health and safety at work that employers would do well to consider. Transport to work is one of them. Rick explained that work health and safety obligations start when employees arrive at work. But both he and Matthew Fell of the CBI thought that it would be most prudent for businesses to think carefully about how their employees are travelling to work, particularly if they are using public transport.
Best practice from companies
The Alcumus Group provides risk management solutions to 40,000 businesses across the UK, so Alyn Franklin, their CEO, was well-placed to discuss some of the best practice he has seen during his work helping companies to navigate safety during Covid-19. They’ve got a “frontline role” and a “front row seat” he said.
Alyn said that the companies that have been most successful in managing the return to work safely with the buy-in and confidence of their employees have been those that have communicated clearly and transparently. “The most successful organisations are those that are facing into it: having the debate with employees and being as transparent as they can," he said.
The lowdown on PPE, social distancing and risk assessments
Today’s session ended with another rapid fire round of questions, this time on the finer points of the guidance.
On PPE and face masks, Rick said that unless face masks are required in the usual course of your work (for example because you work in a dusty environment) then the guidance is that you should not wear one. Other measures such as social distancing and hygiene should be considered more important, he said.
Questions also arose about the distance required for proper social distancing and how companies might manage that. Rick clarified that the distance recommended by government and Public Health England is 2 meters, although he acknowledged that this might not be possible all the time. There might be some tasks that cannot be completed without some closer contact. This is acceptable if the period of contact is a “brief encounter," he said. However, if it is to be prolonged, Rick suggested that such tasks should not go ahead or that companies should consider ways of protecting workers, by erecting screens between them, for example.
Alyn noted that to enforce social distancing it is important to have visible markings for walkways and work areas as they are a “physical manifestation of the guidance” and a reminder that normal practices are not allowed.
The government has recommended that employers publish their risk assessments to show how they are mitigating the risk of Covid-19. Rick clarified that businesses only have a legal duty to share the key findings of their risk assessments with employees. But he stressed that publication of risk assessments “is something that is really good for engaging your workforce, getting public confidence, getting your customer confidence.”
Key questions we answered:
- Matthew, what is the latest on the Job Retention Scheme?
- Treasury have said they will provide updated details by the end of May.
- We are cautiously optimistic that there may be added flexibility to the JRS.
- On the employer contribution, we would expect the employer to pay for the days where people are working, and then make a partial contribution towards the days when they are not. I think we may be looking in the order of a 20–25% contribution from the employer.
- What makes a good risk assessment?
- Covid risk assessments are required for reopening (this also applies to firms that have stayed open during lockdown).
- Effective employee engagement is key. Consultation with the workforce is a required part of the risk assessment – but employers should look to make this a core part of their wider reopening strategy and maintain communication with workers throughout.
- Nervousness around returning is understandable, and regular, honest communication is vital to build trust.
- Firms of 50+ workers are required to publish their risk assessments online.
- The Health and Safety Executive have published model risk assessments for lots of different working environments – you can find these on their website.
- How will enforcement work, and what can companies do to stay compliant?
- A key point here is that local authorities are the enforcement agencies for retail businesses (rather than HSE), and we know governmentt will be working with local authorities to carry out spot checks.
- Generally, both HSE and local authorities are working from the same set of standards – so their approaches shouldn’t differ too much.
- This is not a one-off process, and we encourage employers to keep their health & safety precautions under review and make sure they are working.
- Rick, what is your advice to companies on their own testing and tracing?
- I think companies should consider what works best for them.
- The best thing any company can do to control the virus is to implement social distancing measures, as well as thorough cleaning protocols.
- I would caution against deviating from the scientific evidence. We have heard of companies using thermal imaging to check the temperature of their staff, but the technology may not be as reliable as you think.
- What is the HSE’s guidance around PPE?
- Outside of a healthcare setting, PPE isn’t necessarily needed.
- If work on a construction site, PPE may be required as part of your daily routine. But we think the focus should be on how you redesign your practices to incorporate social distancing.
- The evidence for face coverings protecting people from the virus is very weak. They may only reduce the likelihood of the wearer transmitting something to somebody else.
- If your employer is telling you to wear face masks, I would ask them what they are doing to encourage social distancing, because that is the number one way to protect yourself.
- Should journeys to work be included in risk assessments?
- Coming from a purely health and safety point of view, we think the employers’ duty to their staff starts when they arrive at work.
- We would like businesses to encourage their employees to consider their journeys before coming into work. Employees should consider the distance they have to cover; can they walk or take the bus to work?
- What is your view on people working from home who may be worried about their job security? What legal protections do they have?
- Increasingly, successful organisations are seen to be sympathetic to individual employees within the organisation.
- Employers should consider whether an individual’s role can be adjusted to work outside the workplace. Can you lower the risk profile of that individual?
- There needs to be a constructive dialogue with employees on this issue.
- Focus on engagement with a measured and constructive approach. Take practical measures, lowering risk where you can, and reach an agreement with your workforce.
- What is the HSE’s position on companies implementing one or two metres social distancing?
- We recommend two metres for social distancing.
- However, we also recognise that this may not be possible in all situations. So, it then becomes a duration issue.
- If you have, for example, a job where employees stand opposite each other on a conveyor belt, consider moving them so they are all on the same side, facing the same direction. This way, they can avoid breathing, coughing or sneezing on each other.
- Where these kind of mitigation measures are not possible, you may have to consider putting in more stringent cleaning measures.