The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have each published revised guidance for preventing the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory infections in the workplace. The Scottish Government has also updated its guidance on the subject.
The HSE and UKHSA guidance
The HSE revised its guidance to workplaces about Covid-19 after the UK government relaxed all Covid-19 restrictions in England. The new guidance states that Covid-19 will remain a public health issue so the existing guidance for workplaces will be replaced by general public health advice.
The HSE advice confirms that there is no longer an obligation on every workplace to specifically include Covid-19 in their workplace risk assessments. Employers will need to consider for themselves whether Covid-19 is a risk requiring separate consideration. For example, employers re still required to protect those who may come into contact with Covid-19 in their field of work, such as medical researchers. In these workplaces, there will remain an obligation on employers to complete a Covid-19 risk assessment, as well as to ensure control measures are implemented to offer reasonable protection against the virus to relevant employees.
The advice reiterates that employers must continue to comply with all applicable health and safety laws. Whilst there will no longer be requirements on all employers to implement specific measures to control the spread of Covid-19, employers still have a duty to consult with employees regarding any planned changes that might affect health and safety at work.
The HSE also advises that employers should follow any future Government guidance in relation to vaccinations and protecting the most vulnerable employees.
Similarly, the UKHSA’s revised guidance concentrates on reducing the spread of all respiratory infections, including Covid-19 and the flu. It overlaps with the advice published by the HSE, however there are some additional points that employers should bear in mind. For example, the UKHSA advice:
- discusses not only recognising symptoms, but also reminds employers that they should consider how they can best support their workforce in following the new public health guidance;
- reinforces the importance of maintaining clean and well-ventilated working environments; and
- suggests that employers should encourage their employees to get vaccinated and enable them to do so.
The Scottish Government has also provided updated guidance in relation to Covid-19 and those who are the most at risk to allow them to be safe at work. It continues to encourage hybrid and flexible working patterns, although references to a phased return to work have been removed from the guidance.
The requirement to consider Covid-19 explicitly in workplace risk assessments has been removed due to the change in the HSE guidance, mirroring the position in England. However, the Scottish Government are encouraging employers to continue considering Covid-19 as part of their risk assessments.
The Scottish Government only requires individuals to take Covid-19 tests if they come into close contact with someone who has contracted Covid-19. From 1 May 2022 individuals will no longer be advised to test if they have symptoms, but will still be encouraged to stay at home and reduce the risk of passing any illness on to others.
What does this mean for employers?
The new guidance does not create new or significant obligations for employers, or require them to implement new protective measures. As we move into a phase of living with Covid-19, many employers will be considering which Covid-safe measures they wish to retain and what the right approach is for their organisation when employees display Covid-19 symptoms. It is also important to consider the appropriate support to put in place for more vulnerable employees.
If you have any questions, please contact a member of the employment team.