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Introduction

Because we want workplaces and workers in Wales to be safe, we are asking all employers and employees to:

  • show care by acting with compassion and understanding
  • comply with laws designed to keep us all safe
  • involve everyone because safety is a shared endeavour
  • adapt work places and behaviours
  • and to communicate with clarity and consistency

To tackle the spread of coronavirus, the Welsh Government introduced regulations (“the Coronavirus Regulations”) in March which imposed strict restrictions on gatherings, the movement of people and the operation of businesses, including closures in Wales. The Welsh Government is now following a cautious approach to easing this lockdown and re-opening work places.

This prioritises protecting people by controlling the spread of coronavirus now so that together we can build back better.

The framework for easing lockdown, including reopening businesses and workplaces was published in Unlocking our society and economy: continuing the conversation where a Red-Amber-Green traffic light system defines the stages for how restrictions in different areas of life in Wales may be gradually eased and lifted. 

We are in frequent contact with Welsh businesses and trade unions to ensure that our approach is proportionate and fair to businesses and workers. Where a safe working environment is hard to achieve, restrictions may need to be in place for some time. In agreeing the appropriate way forward in Wales we will also be informed by guidance developed by the UK Government, relevant agencies and trade bodies.

In these difficult times the safety, health and wellbeing of everyone is of paramount importance to us. We have produced this guidance to help employers and employees who are currently working or who will be reopening work places understand what we believe is important and how everyone should approach the shared endeavour of safe work.

This guidance is for all work places. It does not replace legislation and associated guidance, or industry-specific guidance, nor should it be considered a substitute for legal advice which employers and employees should consider obtaining where necessary.

Each workplace is unique and every workplace will need to do what is right for their workers and customers. The Welsh Government will be producing further in-depth guidance to support a safe return to certain key sectors and providing further information about best practice too. Wherever possible, this will be developed and shared in consultation and through ongoing engagement with our partners and stakeholders across Wales as we seek to work together to respond to and recover from this emergency.  

Key information

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak our aim has been clear: protecting public health and protecting the NHS. As we move to opening up our society and the economy in Wales, these aims still stand. Therefore we have some guidance to which businesses need to adhere. Businesses should operate safely and lawfully under this agreed guidance, in two areas with five points to work to. 

Business Wales is also available to support organisations of all sizes with general information, advice and practical support.

Keep Safe

Workforce health

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough; high temperature; the loss or a change in their normal sense of smell or taste they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home.

Employers should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell. This will allow GPs to focus on their patients

If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note by using the COVID-19 symptom checker on NHS 111 Wales.

Test, Trace, Protect

Welsh Government has published its Test, Trace, Protect Strategy which will help us live and work alongside the virus while research continues to find more effective treatments and a vaccine.

Keep Legal

Restarting or operating your business

The Coronavirus Regulations impose a number of restrictions on businesses and other services – these are continually reviewed as we gradually unlock Wales’s economy and there is a full list of businesses and premises that must currently remain closed in Wales as a result of the coronavirus.

If you are permitted to operate your business you must do so safely in a way that complies with any restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus Regulations, in addition to other legal obligations imposed on employers (such as health and safety legislation).

Workers are only allowed to return to the work place if it is not reasonably practicable for them to work from home.

Physical Distancing

The Coronavirus Regulations impose a legal requirement on workplaces to take all reasonable measures to ensure a 2 metre distance is maintained between persons on their premises. Guidance has been produced to assist people in understanding what “taking all reasonable measures” means and what to do if it is not possible to maintain a distance of 2 metres in certain circumstances. Failing to comply with the physical distancing duty in Wales without reasonable excuse is an offence, which on conviction may lead to a fine.

Risk Assessment

All risks should be assessed, with meaningful discussion with staff and/or their recognised trade union, before re-commencing work. If the business or organisation is required by law to have a written risk assessment (where there are 5 or more employees) then significant findings must be written down and control measures put in place. Risk assessments are a legal requirement for pregnant women no matter the size of the business.

Key principles for workplaces in Wales

1. Care: Our health and well-being comes first

Everyone should approach the health, safety and well-being of each other in the workplace through this emergency with compassion and understanding.  

The coronavirus outbreak is a new and fast-moving situation for everyone, it will be challenging, worrying and potentially stressful for many. It is important for employers to look after their employees’ psychological and physical well-being. Workers may be anxious about the impact returning to work could have on them and their families. Employers can focus on reducing sources of stress for the workforce, both in terms of health anxiety and workload issues; with clear communications and assurance on the management of coronavirus (Covid-19) risk.

Workers are only allowed to return to the work place if it is not reasonably practicable for them to work from home. For those that cannot work from home, it is important for employers to establish an initial assessment on whether it is safe for staff to work and where relevant, signpost them to appropriate support organisations. Difficulty in securing childcare and finding a safe way to travel to and from work can also be a source of anxiety and a barrier to returning to work safely. Compassion and understanding extends beyond the workplace boundary.

The coronavirus pandemic poses health risks to everyone but for some people with an underlying health condition there is an increased risk of becoming seriously ill.  It is also evident that certain members of our community, such as black and minority ethnic characteristic, are impacted more than others. Employers should take extra care to safeguard vulnerable employees. We don’t yet have the evidence as to why groups are impacted more than others. Employers are still under legal obligations to ensure the decisions they make in response to coronavirus (COVID-19) do not directly or indirectly discriminate. Employers should not make biased assumptions and use those to disadvantage workers/block them from the job market. We are also advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. Find out more information about social distancing.

They should record who is vulnerable and who has received a letter requiring them to shield. This could mean agreeing to change their usual workplace, or role, or modifying the work environment so that they can work safely.  Those workers who have caring responsibilities for someone who is required to shield are also in a difficult situation and should be supported.

There is growing evidence that coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on Welsh people from BAME backgrounds in the workplace. Welsh Government has launched a two-stage online COVID-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool which will help BAME employees working in the NHS and social care in Wales know if they are at higher risk of developing more serious symptoms if they come into contact with coronavirus. People found to be at increased risk by the tool may, in discussion with their line manager, agree to adjustments to their working arrangements or work from home.

Equality law recognises that bringing about equality for disabled people may mean changing the way in which employment is structured, the removal of physical barriers and/or providing extra support for a disabled worker or those with long-term health conditions. This is the duty to make reasonable adjustments. The overall aim should be, as far as possible, to remove or reduce any substantial disadvantage faced by disabled workers which would not be faced by a non-disabled worker.

2. Comply: The laws which keep us safe must be obeyed

Employers must continue to fulfil their legal duties under new and existing health and safety laws to maintain and protect the physical and mental health, safety and welfare of their employees and customers and visitors to their premises.

Where they cannot provide a safe working environment during the current emergency, they must determine what steps are needed to create one. If the employer still cannot provide a safe working environment, they must cease operations and if necessary furlough staff. Employers must carry out a risk assessment for all pregnant workers and new mothers. If employers cannot ensure the health and safety of pregnant employees by making workplace adjustments, they should be placed on full paid leave or furlough. Employers should always discuss with the employee, instead of deciding automatically.

Employees also have a legal responsibility to their employer and each other to follow instructions concerning safe working practices.

In Wales, the Coronavirus Regulations impose a requirement upon certain persons to take all reasonable measures to ensure that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between people on premises. The requirement applies in a very broad range of circumstances, including, as from 7 April, every workplace which remains open. 

In the case of public facing businesses and services that are allowed to remain open and in the case of places of worship, crematoriums, cemeteries and community centres, the duty in law applies to the person responsible for the premises.  In the case of other workplaces, the duty falls on the person responsible for the work being undertaken in the workplace; that is the person responsible for management control. Failing to comply with the physical distancing duty in Wales without a reasonable excuse is an offence, which on conviction may lead to a fine. It is therefore important that businesses are fully aware of the reasonable measures guidance .

There are established mechanisms for enforcing safety at work and for employees to raise concerns, see the section what to do if you are concerned about work place safety. Employees should be safe to raise concerns as this will lead to improving safe working practices and help reduce transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19).

3. Involve: We all share the responsibility for safe work

Employers are required by law to protect their employees, and others, from harm. Employees also have a duty of care of their own safety and those of others. This is a shared responsibility.

Employers should maintain regular and meaningful engagement with their employees and with the recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers (including their health and safety committee, if this exists) during the coronavirus emergency. Such engagement provides useful opportunities to remind everyone about safe working practices and precautions, and allows them to share their concerns or anxieties. For employees on maternity leave, this may be a time where they feel particularly isolated and uncertain about what is happening at work. Employers should keep in touch and offer the same support as other employees, such as access to employee assistance support.

All risks should be assessed, with meaningful discussion with staff and their recognised trade union or a representative chosen by workers, before re-commencing work. Staff should also be involved with implementing control measures and reporting risks to protect workers and visitors.

For larger workplaces a standing group (including management and union/employee representatives) is appropriate. Meeting regularly (but adhering to social distancing regulations or else virtually) it can anticipate issues and assess and evaluate their impacts on an on-going basis. Smaller workplaces could have similar regular discussions between staff. Before bringing their people back to the workplace employers should above all consider if it is essential, and only where it is not reasonably practicable for that employee to undertake that work from home.

When measures are in place and staff and visitors are experiencing them for the first time, carrying out induction sessions so that everyone is familiar with any new systems or reporting procedures is a sensible step. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them and this can also help reduce anxiety about returning to work.

Clients and contractors may have implemented different working systems so it is important to understand those and also to see if there is an opportunity to learn from their experience.

4. Adapt: We will all need to change how we work

The consultation between employers and employees will help to identify the essential hygiene protocols, equipment and measures needed to keep the workplace safe from coronavirus (Covid-19) and limit its transmission. All work places are different, but there is a growing body of industry specific guidance and examples of good practice from work places which have not closed, available to draw upon.

Taking all reasonable measures to ensure that two metres distance is kept between all people in the workplace combined with robust hygiene measures is the aim.

PPE Personal Protective Equipment

There can be confusion between the need for higher specification PPE which exists for example, in health care and similar situations and other forms of protection such as face coverings in non-clinical settings. Workplaces should not encourage the unnecessary use of higher specification PPE to protect against coronavirus outside clinical settings. However, employers should carefully risk assess the appropriate level of protective equipment that may be needed in any given situation in conjunction with their employees.

Where PPE is currently used within the workplace to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, it should continue to be utilised in this way.

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be beneficial as a precautionary measure, for example it may protect others if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms. A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of PPE. PPE should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust hazards.

Wearing a face covering is not compulsory but wear they are used you should support individuals to use face coverings safely. For example:

  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on and after removing it
  • when wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands
  • change your face covering if it becomes damp
  • continue to wash your hands regularly
  • change and wash your face covering daily if it is reusable
  • if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it in your usual waste

And it is important not to derive a false sense of security from using a face covering: hygiene, washing hands and using hand sanitizer and observing 2 metre distancing remain important.

We do not recommend everyone wears a non-clinical face covering in Wales. We do not recommend that they are compulsory. But, we support the public’s right to choose whether to wear them.

5. Communicate: We must all understand what to do

It is essential that there is clear, precise and constant communication between employers, employees and other visitors to the workplace, about the reasonable and proportionate actions taken regarding workplace safety. It is important that everyone gets the same message and same instruction. Employers should ensure that communications are accessible for all staff.

Employees will need assurance before their return to work to that the employer is aware of any particular needs they have. All employees will need to be confident that the safety and well-being of the workforce and visitors is a key priority.

Safety messages should be circulated regularly to all employees using an agreed method which is accessible to all.  Posters and prominent visual aids and notices in the workplace will help reinforce these safety messages.

The aim is to give clear communications and assurance of the management of coronavirus (Covid-19) risk in the workplace.

What to do if you are concerned about work place safety

If you are concerned about the safety measures in your workplace or in a work place you visit then you can report this to the Public Protection services of your local authority (which include environmental health and health and safety) who are responsible for advice and enforcement. In many “closed” workspace settings (i.e. where there is no access for the public or external contractors) regulation and enforcement of working practices is in the remit of the Health and Safety Executive.

Where to find out more

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a short guide on Working Safely during the Coronavirus Outbreak. The Guide contains information on:

  • assessing risk
  • specific advice for your industry
  • talking with your workers
  • who should go to work?
  • protecting people who are at higher risk
  • getting into and leaving work
  • work area
  • moving around
  • common areas
  • good hygiene
  • information and guidance
  • PPE (personal protective equipment)

The Health and Safety Executive has produced useful advice for employers and their staff about how to work safely from home during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

For targeted advice and support for people returning to work and facing urgent issues affecting their well-being and welfare several Welsh Government funded programmes are ready to help. The In-Work Support Project provides support to employed and self- employed people with mental health conditions and also has a package of support available to SMEs in North Wales delivered by Rhyl City Strategy, and in South West Wales by Swansea Bay University Health Board.

The Healthy Working Wales website brings together advice on a wide range of useful topics:

  • symptoms checker
  • self-isolation
  • shielding/ protecting vulnerable people
  • limiting the spread/ infection prevention and control advice
  • safe home and lone working
  • medical certification
  • pay and loss of earnings/ access to HR and legal advice
  • close working with others
  • vehicles and travel to work
  • canteens and rest areas
  • critical workers including testing and PPE

They also signpost to links through to the Public Health Wales ‘How are you doing?’ campaign and the Society of Occupational Medicine Returning to the Workplace after the COVID-19 Outbreak Toolkit.

Time to Change Wales help people who face difficult conversations about mental health and stigma in the workplace, with a strong focus on how to show kindness during COVID-19:

now, more than ever it’s important we show kindness to one other. Giving and receiving acts of kindness can help to improve mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings

They are encouraging involvement through a weekly e-newsletter, virtual pledge signingsvirtual anti-stigma talkswriting a blog, downloading free resources or support on social media (TwitterInstagramFacebook). They are also in the process of developing an Online Forum in their Employer login section

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced COVID-19 guidance for employers, which assist them when making difficult decisions to take account of their obligations under the Equality Act:

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