Health and safety roundup: COVID-19 edition - April 2020
As this is a fast moving topic, please note that this article is current as at 01/04/20. For further information, please contact Stephanie Power.
We have taken a look at some of the hot topics emerging in health and safety over recent months and interesting recent developments in the area. Here is a short summary of what we found:
Coronavirus pandemic – employees and workers
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting everybody and every business in different ways. We have combined with our employment team to consider the employment and health and safety considerations to provide information to our clients which it is hoped will go some way to support them through this difficult time.
Below are some additional considerations:
- Risk assessment is key. Continue to monitor government guidance on the pandemic and update your risk assessment regarding the need for people to continue to attend your offices/sites. Implement control measures to mitigate the risk, and if that cannot be done to create a safe environment then alternative arrangements will need to be made.
- Control measures implemented because of the coronavirus may give rise to other unintentional risks that will also need to be given proper consideration. For example, are your employees now lone working and, if so, is any training/risk assessment required in respect of the risks associated with that?
- Employees who are required to work from home for the duration of the pandemic will need to be considered in line with HSE guidance – points to consider include:
- How will you keep in touch with them?
- What activity will they be doing?
- Can it be done safely?
- Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?
- Is it possible to conduct a remote workstation assessment?
- Of particular importance over this period of uncertainty will be keeping an eye on employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Feeling isolated and/or in a heightened state of anxiety can severely impact on our mental health. Procedures should be put in place to keep in touch with home workers so that employers can recognise signs of stress as early as possible.
HSE enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic
We reported last month that health and safety enforcement statistics have considerably dropped in recent years. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, we expect those statistics to continue to decrease this year.
Those who are already in the middle of a regulatory investigation/prosecution should expect there to be significant delays to the process. That said, those delays are likely to be only temporary, rather than permanent, and we expect regulators to be back to ‘business as usual’ as soon as the guidance allows it, which will likely result in a surge in enforcement and court hearings later in the year.
To give an idea of the impact of the coronavirus on ongoing investigations and prosecutions, we have seen the following in recent days:
- The Lord Chief Justice has released new guidance allowing only necessary criminal hearings (mainly relating to those persons who are in custody and/or whose liberty is at stake) to take place during the current lock down. Most health and safety hearings are therefore being adjourned although some hearings are taking place remotely by telephone or video link (depending on the type of hearing and court capabilities). All jury trials will be adjourned on the basis that they cannot be conducted remotely.
- On 26 March the Chief Coroner released guidance for the Coroners’ Courts which is mainly in line with the Lord Chief Justice’s guidance mentioned above (i.e. no physical hearing should take place unless it is urgent and essential business and that it is safe for those involved for the hearing to take place).
- Court deadlines that were already imposed before the pandemic (for example, requiring disclosure of statements or legal submissions) will still be in force regardless of the pandemic. If the government’s lock down will prevent compliance with Court deadlines, an application in writing for an extension to the deadline must be made to the Court in good time.
- Interviews under caution scheduled in the coming days and weeks are, normally by agreement with the regulator, being postponed to a date to be agreed at a later date. Alternatively, response by way of written submissions may be preferred.