As the government removes all remaining legal restrictions relating to COVID-19, where does this leave employers when deciding on their own internal practices and procedures?
An end to ‘Working Safely’?
For some time now, employers have been expressly required to take account of COVID-19 in their workplace risk assessments. Since July 2021, this assessment has been heavily informed by the government’s ‘Working safely during coronavirus‘ guidance. However, from 1 April, this guidance is going to be scrapped, as will the mandatory requirement for all workplaces to factor COVID-19 into their risk assessments. Instead, the Government plans to introduce new public health guidance aimed at assisting employers in deciding how to manage workplace risk, especially in relation to those who may be clinically vulnerable. What form this new guidance will take, we do not currently know. It will be published and finalised following consultation with employers.
So what should we do?
It is important to note that the legal requirement to provide staff with a safe working environment is not going anywhere; nor is the risk posed by COVID-19. As a result, employers will need to continue to implement appropriate measures aimed at protecting the safety of all workers. This may still include measures relating to social distancing, ventilation, mask-wearing and testing, despite the potentially mixed messages coming from the government.
Employers would be wise not to strip their ‘COVID-secure’ practices and procedures back too far or too fast. At the very least, businesses should wait until the latest guidance is published, to make sure they don’t find themselves having to make a very quick about-turn.