As government restrictions begin to ease, more and more businesses are opening their doors once again to both employees and the public. If everything goes according to plan, the hope is that social distancing measures will be significantly reduced or even scrapped by 21 June. But COVID will not be eradicated by the summer and employers have a legal duty to ensure the safety of any people affected by their business.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is conducting spot checks and inspections on all types of businesses across every sector to ensure that organisations are COVID-secure and that employers are fulfilling their responsibility to keep people safe. So, what can you expect from a COVID-19 health and safety inspection and how should you prepare for one?
An officer may appear unannounced at your place of work to conduct a spot check. He or she will have identification from their business and a letter from the HSE authorising them to conduct the inspection. The HSE is partnering with various businesses and supporting local authorities to reach as many workplaces as possible, so the inspector may not necessarily be a direct employee of the HSE or the local authority.
Officers that visit premises will carry identification from their business and a letter of authorisation from the HSE. If you wish, you can contact the HSE to verify the officer’s identification before the inspection starts by calling 0300 790 6896.
You are legally obliged to permit the officer entry and assist with the inspection.
You may receive a call or visit from an HSE representative. During an inspection, the officer will ask to speak to someone who can talk them through the safety measures in place to control and manage the transmission of COVID-19. Typically, this is a senior manager who has access to all the documents and information an officer may ask to see.
You will be asked to provide your COVID-19 risk assessment and the inspector will want to see all areas of the business to ensure that the safety procedures detailed in this document are being put into practice. The officer may also ask to speak to various employees or their representatives, such as a union rep, to gain further evidence that safety measures are being consistently applied.
The purpose of the spot checks is not to catch people out, but to identify areas of risk and support employers to make their workplace COVID-secure. The coronavirus pandemic has brought new and continually evolving challenges to the workplace and the HSE understands that many business owners are doing their best to achieve compliance.
The HSE recommends 3 steps to make a workplace COVID-Secure:
All business owners have a legal responsibility to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. This should identify which activities are most likely to expose employees or customers to the virus, consider the level of risk and set out measures for removing or reducing the risk to an acceptable level. Read our blog for more information on writing your risk assessment.
The government has produced 14 guides on social distancing to cover a range of different work settings. Some businesses may need to refer to multiple guides to ensure compliance in all areas of their workplace.
Workplaces and equipment should be regularly cleaned. Employees and customers should be provided with handwashing facilities and hand sanitizing stations. Cleaning requirements and standards will vary depending on the type of business and work being undertaken. For example, care homes and medical settings will have more stringent hygiene procedures than shops and offices.
And any other measures necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Failure to allow an authorised officer to enter your premises and conduct an inspection could lead to enforcement action. This may result in the cessation of all work and prosecution. The aim of inspections is to help business owners achieve compliance with legal requirements. If you have met all your legal obligations, there is nothing to worry about. If there are gaps in the health and safety measures in place, the officer will explain what you need to do to achieve compliance.
Employers should view spot checks as a support system rather than something to fear.
If you comply with the inspection but fail to meet the required standards of having a COVID-Secure workplace, the HSE officer will take immediate action by providing advice and guidance on how you can achieve compliance. This may entail stopping certain work until it is COVID-safe.
You may receive an enforcement notice — either an improvement notice or a prohibition notice. Both will include a summary of the officer’s findings.
An improvement notice is issued if there is a breach of health and safety law. It details what improvements need to be made and sets a deadline (at least 21 days) for when these changes must be made. Work does not have to stop immediately.
A prohibition notice is given if there is a serious risk to health and safety. Work must stop immediately. There is no deadline for completing the required changes because no work can be carried out while the notice is in place.
Following an enforcement notice, the HSE may decide to prosecute a business, either due to non-compliance with the notice or for the health and safety breach itself.
Keeping your employees and customers safe should be of paramount importance to any business owner. COVID-19 is likely to impact how we live and work for years to come so it must be factored into your health and safety procedures. Act now to keep people safe and protect your business — if an HSE officer does appear at your door, you will be fully prepared and won’t have to endure the disruption and reputational damage of receiving an enforcement notice or prosecution.
Got a question? Get in touch with Howlett Health and Safety Services today for a free 15-minute consultation. We can help make your workplace COVID-secure by producing a comprehensive COVID-19 risk assessment — this is likely to be the first thing an HSE officer will ask to see if they do a spot check of your premises.