From 19 June 2020, Scotland entered Phase 2 of the Scottish Government's route map through and out of the COVID-19 crisis.
This meant that from Monday 22 June 2020, the construction sector was able to implement the remaining phases of its plan. From Monday 29 June 2020, indoor workplaces (excluding offices) can reopen – this covers workplaces like factories and warehouses.
While this is good news for the economy, and indeed for businesses that are going through a turbulent and uncertain time, considerations must be made before employees return to work.
Many businesses will be getting back to a new normal with a diminished staff base. While this may make it easier to ensure safe social distancing in the workplace, it carries other potential challenges, particularly where staff have been made redundant or furloughed.
Some questions to consider
- What happens if one of the people who will not be there when starting back was in a health and safety, compliance or supervisory role? Are there others who can fill the gap? Does this need to be formally recorded?
- Within a smaller business, are you now missing the only IOSH or NEBOSH qualified colleague who was appointed for risk assessing or planning lifts? Are others within the business sufficiently qualified and experienced to take on this role?
- How does this affect your risk assessments and method statements for various tasks?
- Do notices need to be updated to show an alternative first aider or site manager?
- Should refresher training be offered in light of updated COVID-19 policies?
- Have toolbox talk procedures been updated to reflect any changes?
Regulatory requirements continue to be in place, so while the main priority may understandably be getting back to work, it must be done safely to ensure long terms security and success.
For instance, if the police or HSE identify employers who are not complying with the relevant public health guidance to control COVID-19 health risks to workers, their usual powers apply. They may offer specific advice to assist employers in creating a safe working environment. However, they have the same powers to issue enforcement notices. If they discover a material breach of health and safety law and issue a notice of contravention, a fee for intervention (£157 per hour of HSE time spent investigating the suspected breach) will follow.
Not only will this be an added (and usually uninsured) expense for businesses, a visit from the HSE will mean further disruption and time away from getting things back on track. As formal notices are recorded on the HSE's Public Register of Enforcement Notices for a period of five years, this can have a detrimental impact on your business' reputation, employee satisfaction and potential future tenders.
Businesses will reap the rewards in the long term if they invest in upfront expense and time spent reviewing policies and risk assessments, to ensure they are compliant with the relevant industry guidance and regulations.
To assist, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has set up a contact point for requests for support from trade union Health and Safety representatives, which can be accessed here and here. Your insurer may also have internal advisers who can assist and it's worth seeing if this is included in your EL/PL policy.
That said, the long-term business benefits of engaging with specialist health and safety advisers cannot be overstated. They bring a wealth of industry experience and know what the various regulatory bodies will be looking for when assessing regulatory compliance.
Proactive engagement in workplace health and safety is, of course, always better than reactive action.