London, 31.03.2020 - For many UK businesses this is a time of uncertainty; restaurants, pubs, and non-essential shops are closed. Nearly all of us are self-isolating and working from home. Yet for many businesses work still goes on, notably in the construction and manufacturing sectors - essential work which can hardly be done remotely. So how can businesses ensure continuity, while keeping the workforce safe?
The arrival of COVID-19 is no doubt testing the HSE management system of many companies. If an employee shows symptoms – most commonly a dry cough, or a fever – it is critical to not only allow them to self-isolate, but also to protect other employees on site. A good safety observation system enables businesses to manage where an ill employee was working, and ensure sufficient cleaning measures can be undertaken.
The scale of COVID-19 is a major risk factor for many businesses. It is likely to spread across the UK, meaning that businesses with multiple sites will face new challenges. How can a form and paper-based management system cope with the number and scale of incidents? The administration time alone is immense, notwithstanding that paper forms could very likely be a vector for disease. It is absolutely critical for business continuity that management teams have an accurate, day-to-day view of their workforce’s wellbeing, to manage outbreaks on site.
As the number of infections grow, many businesses may find themselves short-handed at critical moments. As any seasoned HSE professional will tell you, this is when corners get cut and unnecessary risks taken to complete jobs on time. HSE managers may find their teams reduced by illness, making accurate assessments and audits even more difficult. At Emex we are huge proponents of mobile reporting, as it enables mission critical HSE work to be completed quickly and accurately. With reduced numbers of staff, the continued operation of HSE management is crucial to protect businesses from unnecessary liability.
Protecting a remote workforce
Health & safety doesn’t stop off site. Businesses are still liable for their employees if they are travelling for work or working remotely – and this includes protection from COVID-19. The HSE states that:
‘You have the same health and safety responsibilities for homeworkers and the same liability for accident or injury as for any other workers.
This means you must provide supervision, education and training, as well as implementing enough control measures to protect the homeworker.’
This means that a suitable at-home risk assessment system is crucial, yet often overlooked. Many employees are exposed to unnecessary ergonomic risk if working remotely, due to non-standard desk arrangements. A proactive and positive methodology for managing offsite workplaces leads to greater performance from the remote workforce, and less chance of regulatory or insurance breaches.
Work in a time of Corona
What remains to be seen is how liable businesses will be if they expose employees to unnecessary COVID-19 risk. The law as outlined in the 1974 Health & Safety at Work act is well known – yet has not been clarified with regard to COVID-19. Businesses seeking to prevent employees from self-isolating are likely exposing themselves to huge liability. And yet organisations could be equally as exposed if they fail to implement a strategic and effective management system to manage the spread of the virus.
Responsibility for the safety of employees goes beyond supplying sufficient hand sanitiser. Enforcement of social distancing in companies has already been legally implemented across Europe, and the UK is likely to follow. More drastic measures, including the pausing of non-essential business, could well be on the horizon. Organisations must ensure that they are well prepared to protect their workforce both on site and at home.