With the increase in local COVID-19 outbreaks, specialist Health and Safety Solicitor Julia Thomas and Senior Consultant Melvin Sandell provide information about the guidance released by Public Health England (PHE) to help control these outbreaks.
Since the onset of the pandemic a plethora of guidance and legislation has been produced by the Government and soon to be defunct Public Health England (PHE) to assist businesses and the public in controlling the spread of the virus. It has been recognised that businesses need to continue to function as the virus is not going to go away any time soon and we are now in a recession. With an increase in the scrutiny by the HSE and other Regulators of the safety arrangements businesses have in place, the need for guidance from the powers that be is greater than ever. To assist, PHE produced workplace action cards for businesses which have been grouped into nine types of workplace settings to keep on hand in case of an outbreak. They are quick reference guides which should be printed off or be easily accessible to those working within an organisation.
It should be noted that these cards are to complement all the other guidance such as handwashing and the need for social distancing; they are not a substitute for the steps that you as a business should have put in place to make your workplace COVID secure. They deal with the steps which should be taken to identify and contain any potential COVID-19 outbreak quickly.
The Public Health England actions cards cover nine types of workplace settings:
- Industrial workplaces including construction and outdoor work, manufacturing of food and other large processing plants, factories, plants, warehouses, and waste recycling facilities.
- Large and small gatherings premises including art, heritage, and cultural venues as well as business event venues, cinemas, theatres, comedy, and music venues.
- Residential workplaces including campsites and caravan parks, hotels, and guest accommodation.
- Consumer-facing workplaces including dress fitters, tailors and fashion designers, hairdressers, beauty and nail bars, spas, sports and massage therapy, and wellbeing and holistic centres.
- Commercial workplaces including contact centres, offices, and operations rooms.
- Education workplaces including early years, higher education, and other related settings.
- Food and drink workplaces including restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes, or takeaways.
- Institutions such as courts and tribunals, approved premises, armed forces, and defence.
- Travel related workplaces for example taxis, hire cars, public transport (buses, underground, trams, trains, and coaches), airports, seaports, and terminals.
They identify three key stages of controlling a potential outbreak
1. Identify an outbreak. You may be informed of a confirmed case by NHS Test and Trace, an employee or visitor to your premises or by your local Health Protection Team. This does not necessarily indicate that there is an outbreak, but you should take steps to monitor the situation.
2. Under the current guidance, you need to proceed to step two (detailed below) when you are informed of more than one confirmed case of COVID-19. However, depending on the type of workplace you operate and the proximity of workers to each other it may be prudent to proceed to step two after one confirmed case, or if you have been informed of one confirmed case and the possibility of others.
3. Report the potential outbreak to your local Health Protection Team. This should be done as soon as possible. The action cards identify the need for early engagement with the Health Protection Team as a key factor in minimising “any possible wider outbreak in your community”.
4. Respond to the outbreak by working with your Health Protection Team to assess the risk and take the relevant actions. This may include further staff awareness training, limitations on access to the workplace or even the temporary closure of the same, or enhanced hygiene procedures including enhanced cleaning and handwashing as well as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Visits by more than one regulator are not uncommon at these times and as you never know when you are going to be the subject of a spot check. It is prudent that you take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure your workplace is COVID-secure. This is something Finch can help you with.
Finch has been helping clients to manage their workplace risks during the pandemic. Our team includes ex-HSE inspectors, an industrial hygienist, occupational health, and behavioural specialists as well as specialist health and safety lawyers who can provide advice and guidance on:
- Whether an outbreak is RIDDOR.
- COVID policies and arrangements both before and after a regulatory inspection.
- Responding to requests for information from Regulators.
- The potential for challenging any enforcement action taken (notifications of contravention, improvement and prohibition notices and other regulatory notices served under COVID-related legislation).
If you would like a confidential discussion about any of the matters regarding public health England action cards or any other health, safety or environmental matter please do not hesitate to contact one of our team listed below or [email protected].