COVID-19, Health & Safety and protecting your team

A round up of the FAQ's around protecting staff as they return to work after lockdown. We start with safeguarding pregnant women and homeworkers. 

How can I protect pregnant workers as they return to work?

During the outbreak of COVID-19, pregnant workers have been advised to follow stringent social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother. Specific health and safety requirements relating to new and expectant mothers at work are mainly contained in Regulations 16 to 18 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations 1999.

Some pregnant women will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They should have received a shielding letter from the NHS advising them

- to stay at home where possible
- that they are not expected to be in a workplace

Employers will need to take this into account in their risk assessment. See our other FAQ on COVID-19 Risk Assessments. 

After completion of the risk assessment, suitable preventative measures must be implemented. If you cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should make arrangements for medical suspension with the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Alternatively, you can start maternity leave earlier and we would be happy to discuss these options with you to help clarify how you look after pregnant women. 

My team are still working from home, how can I protect those who work with Display Screen Equipment?

As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.

When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer you should consider:

- How will you keep in touch with them?

- What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?

- Can it be done safely?

- Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?

Working with Display Screen Equipment 

For those people who are working at home on a long-term basis, the risks associated with using Display Screen Equipment (DSE) must be controlled. This includes them doing workstation assessments at home.

There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the risks from display screen work:

- breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
- avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
- getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
- avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time

Keep DSE arrangements under review

As any period of temporary home working extends, employers should have regular discussions with workers to assess whether additional steps are needed, for example where they report:

- aches, pains or discomfort related to their temporary DSE arrangements
- adverse effects of working in isolation, on remote IT systems 
- working longer hours without adequate rest and recovery breaks

Where employers decide to make working from home arrangements permanent, they should explain how to carry out full workstation assessments and provide workers with appropriate equipment and advice on control measures.

How do I talk to my staff about continuing to work safely as they return to work?

It is important to continue to educate peope as they return to work about the risks of COVID-19. By consulting and involving people in the steps you are taking to manage the risk of COVID-19 in your workplace you can:

- explain the changes you are planning to work safely

- make sure changes will work and hear their ideas

- continue to operate your business safely during the outbreak

This could be done by means of a Toolbox Talk. A Toolbox Talk is a brief presentation to your workforce on a single aspect of health and safety.

A Toolbox Talk allows you and the workforce to discuss specific health and safety issues that relate to a single topic and think about how to deal with them.

Toolbox Talks are not about handing out a document and asking the workforce to read it. Handouts can be useful but discuss the salient points with the attendees of the Toolbox Talk. It should be a two-way conversation between the presenter and the attendees. It’s important that they are actively involved; ask them open questions and take note of their valuable feedback. Your staff will often have ideas of how a task or process can be done safer, quicker or better and this is one way of getting that information. It will also help identify whether they have taken on board what has been discussed.

For more information on Toolbox Talks and how to use these effectively, call Quest Consulting Services on 0844 8797286.

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The support of Quest is invaluable and provides a much more cost effective solution than employing a HR Manager in house.

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