With the UK’s COVID-19 alert level recently downgraded from four to three and the country slowly returning to ‘business as usual’, all eyes are now on how companies can adapt to a ‘new normal’ by implementing measures that protect employees and customers alike.
Following health and safety best practice has never been more important, and whether employers are looking to re-open their doors, or keep their workforce at home for a bit longer, there are regulations in place that need to be adhered to.
DeltaNet International, which specialises in health and safety and compliance, has done the digging to uncover the eight laws your business could be breaking right now – many of which carry the potential of an unlimited fine or jail sentence. With workers’ rights firmly in the spotlight, there’s never been more pressing time for companies to ensure they aren’t dropping the regulatory ball.
You could be breaking the law right now if:
1) You don’t consider an employee’s request for flexible working
Many employees will be gearing up to return to their place of work as businesses begin to reopen. This, naturally, can result in high levels of anxiety, with a recent survey by the GMB Union revealing that four in five have concerns about going back to work. Under The Flexible Working Regulations 2014, an employee who has been “continuously employed for a period of at least 26 weeks is entitled to make a flexible working application”. Employers can only refuse a request for one of eight reasons allowed by the legislation, which must be given in writing along with details of your company’s appeals procedure.
2) You aren’t taking due care to ensure the health and safety of remote workers
Even if employees are working remotely, from the comfort of their own home, employers – with a workforce of more than five people – still have obligations under The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974, The Display Screen Equipment Regulations and The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations. This means carrying out a risk assessment for working from home in order to highlight any areas of concern; employers are responsible for any changes that are needed.
It is not surprising that these considerations may have been overlooked, due to the practical difficulties of a physical inspection during lockdown. However, employers can still take due care by asking staff to undertake a self-assessment, for example, or submit photographs of their workstation.
Furloughed staff are still employees, whose employment rights continue while on furlough, so they are still owed a duty of care.
3) You haven’t provided staff with the right equipment
As above, there is a requirement for employers to undertake a display screen assessment, though this can be done by the employee with appropriate guidance from the employer. There is also a non-delegatory duty to fund costs under The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations which apply to workers who use DSE daily, for an hour or more at a time, for the provision of eye and eyesight tests and of special corrective appliances.
Some companies have trialled providing employees with a set budget in which to make purchases to ensure that employees can work safely where an employee needs a specific chair or desk, or two screens, for example. This would be the employers’ property and so should be returned upon request.
4) You aren’t taking into consideration your employees’ mental health
Under the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974, organisations must assess the risk of work-related stress, which are likely to be increased in the current circumstances.
With 40% of people admitting to working longer hours than they would in a standard working day, and 11% claiming to have a heavier workload than usual, employers should take it upon themselves to reiterate the need for breaks, with the law stating that workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day.
5) You haven’t provided new workers with a written particulars of employment
Despite the current crisis, many sectors have still been hiring. Some have needed to fill vacancies pretty fast too – for example, for delivery driver or supermarket positions. However, this does not excuse the need for a written particulars of employment, under the Employment Rights Act 1996. These particulars should set out holidays, sick pay entitlements and notice requirements and must legally be provided within two months of the start date.
In addition, businesses must consult staff on any changes to their contract. Failing to do this could result in a breach of contract claim.
6) You haven’t given employees info on your company’s health and safety policies
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – and subsequently covered under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – bosses must “prepare and as often as may be appropriate revise a written statement of his general policy in respect to the health and safety at work of his employees and the organisation and arrangements for the time being in force for carrying out that policy, and to bring the statement and any revision of it to the notice of all his employees.” According to one survey by data capture app provider, WorkMobile, 65% of people have not received information on their company’s health and safety policies.
7) You aren’t reporting workplace injuries or near-misses
Employers must report certain workplace injuries, near-misses and cases of work-related disease to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); this is covered under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, also known as RIDDOR. Reporting helps authorities identify where and how risks arise, and whether they need further investigation. Records of incidents covered by RIDDOR must be kept; employers with ten or more employees are required by law to keep an accident book anyway. Accident books are legally required to be stored safely for three years.
8) You aren’t protecting staff from the risks of workplace diseases
This might sound obvious, but when it comes to health and safety, Legionnaires’ disease is not usually the first thing that springs to mind. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 extends to risks from legionella bacteria – which causes Legionnaire’s disease, an uncommon but potentially serious form of pneumonia. It can occur by inhaling small droplets of water, suspended in the air, containing the bacteria. Employers must protect all employees and visitors from the risk of exposure to this by inspecting, maintaining and servicing water management systems and equipment (i.e. water tanks, thermostatic mixing valves and water treatment equipment). If your workplace has air-con, hot and cold water systems or on-site showers then this needs to be a consideration.
Darren Hockley, managing director at DeltaNet International, comments: “I think all UK businesses would agree that 2020 has been a tough year! As we cautiously begin to ease lockdown, now is the perfect time to make sure you’re not dropping the ball when it comes to health and safety.
This information isn’t meant to scare-off business owners, but it’s there as an at-a-glance reminder about the legislative responsibilities we all have, and that exist to protect our businesses and our employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. Now more than ever, this should be a priority.”
For more information on the particulars, including the potential fines for these laws, see here.