COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Update: What Do the New Government Guidelines Mean?

Close up shot of woman hand turning open sign board on glass door in coffee shop and restaurant after covid-19 (coronavirus) lockdown quarantine

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the UK continues to fall, the government is gradually rolling out its plans for easing restrictions. The Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE) are leading the government response to the coronavirus outbreak. New guidelines, due to come into force on 4 July, were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 25 June.

As an employer, it can be challenging keeping up-to-date and ensuring compliance with the latest government guidelines as they continue to change and develop. Our experts at Howlett Health and Safety Services have broken down the recent government information and highlighted the key elements businesses must comply with in order to operate safely and legally.

Social Distancing

From 4 July, it will no longer be mandatory to adhere to the current two-metre social distancing rule at all times and across every situation. However, compliance with this standard should only be relaxed where it is not possible to stay two metres apart, a distance of “one metre plus” with mitigation should be maintained.

When reducing the recommended social distance in certain areas of the workplace, the employer should consider:

  • The personal risk to individuals of contracting the virus
  • The onward rate of transmission across the community

Business owners should consider implementing test and trace measures to reduce the risk of onward transmission.

Why the Change?

The government has decided to change the rules on social distancing to allow more businesses to open and to help the economy begin to recover. For many businesses, it is not financially viable to operate with the two-metre rule in place.

The new government guidance is based on scientific evidence, the economic impact of social distancing and the current prevalence of the virus in the country – “the absolute risk of transmission between people is reduced as the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in the population declines”.

However, it is important to note that a distance of two metres apart has not be removed and should be maintained wherever possible. Where circumstances make adherence to the two-metre rule impractical, a minimum of one metre with risk mitigation is acceptable.  

Mitigating the Risk of Transmission

Where the distance between employees or customers is reduced to one metre, businesses should still take every precaution to reduce the risk of transmission, by:

  • Avoiding face-to-face interactions
  • Reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces
  • Providing additional ventilation
  • Preventing unnecessary or large gatherings by closing social spaces
  • Providing employees with protective screens and face coverings
  • Making hand sanitiser readily available to employees and customers
  • Establishing work/shift teams to reduce the number of people each employee mixes with

Where such mitigations are employed, protection from the virus will be, “broadly equivalent” to maintaining the current two-metre distance.

Employers should ensure that employees and customers continue to follow current guidance on cleaning, hygiene and the use of hand sanitiser to minimise the risk of transmission whether the one or two-metre distance restriction is in place.

Appropriate mitigation measures will differ between sectors and individual businesses. The government had provided detailed sector guidance here. Examples of mitigations provided include implementing capacity limits in retails settings, working in fixed teams on construction sites and staggering breaks in manufacturing environments. Businesses should “innovate and apply (the) advice to their individual situations”.

Businesses must set out the risk mitigations they will implement in areas where the social distance requirement will be reduced to a minimum of one metre, in their COVID -19 risk assessment.

Howlett Health and Safety Services have over 30 years’ experience working with clients from a diverse range of sectors to create safe, legally compliant workplaces. If you are interested in receiving help to create a COVID -19 risk assessment for your workplace, get in touch.

Protecting the “Extremely Critically Vulnerable”

In light of the significant reduction in COVID-19 infection rates in recent weeks, the new government guidance allows people who are currently “shielding” because they are deemed to be “extremely critically vulnerable”, to leave their home for the first time, provided they maintain strict social distancing.

People who fall into this category remain at an increased risk of infection and employers should take care to implement appropriate measures to protect any such employees. This is likely to include allowing “shielded” employees to continue working from home as the government advises that from 6 July, these individuals should only go outdoors with people from up to six households and they may visit one other household (indoors).

From 1 August, shielding will be paused. From this date, employers may choose to recall extremely critically vulnerable employees to work, but they should take care to keep them safe, for example by assigning them to work areas where the two-metre rule will not be reduced.

Update Your COVID-19 Risk Assessment Now

Every business must conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment and this should now be updated with mitigations planned for any work areas where the two-metre distance will be reduced to a minimum of one metre. Your risk assessment should be updated ahead of the 4 July when these changes will come into effect.

Contact us now to book a free 15-minute consultation and find out how we can help you keep your people safe and your business compliant with the latest government COVID-19 guidance.

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