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Introduction

To tackle the spread of coronavirus, the Welsh Government introduced regulations imposing strict restrictions on gatherings, the movement of people and the operation of businesses, some of which had been required to close temporarily. Incrementally, as a result of regular review of the Regulations, an increasing number of these have been allowed to operate again.

Businesses that are permitted to operate, or premises that are allowed to open, must do so safely in a way that complies with the Regulations, in addition to other legal obligations imposed on employers (such as health and safety legislation).

The Welsh Government has issued Statutory Guidance on taking all reasonable measures to minimise exposure to coronavirus in workplaces and premises open to the public. The Keep Wales Safe – At Work guidance builds on these requirements and aims to help employers, employees and the self-employed to work safely.  Each business is unique and will need to decide what actions it needs to take to operate safely, depending on the nature of the business including the size and type of business, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated. All businesses must have regard to the Coronavirus Regulations and the Statutory Guidance.

In the event of any discrepancy between this guidance and the Statutory Guidance, you should have regard to the Statutory Guidance. This guidance is not a substitute for legal advice, which you should consider obtaining where necessary, nor does it supersede any legal obligations including in relation to health and safety, employment or equalities. It is important that as a business or an employer you continue to comply with your existing obligations including those relating to individuals with protected characteristics. Failure to comply with the relevant public health legislation could result in enforcement action by the relevant authorities.

This document contains guidance to take into account when complying with these existing obligations. When considering how to apply this guidance, take into account agency workers, contractors and other people, as well as your employees and anyone else on premises.

To help you decide which actions to take, you must carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment, just as you would for other Health and Safety related hazards. This risk assessment must be done in consultation with the recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers.

We expect that this document will be updated over time. This version is up to date as of 28 July 2020. 

Key information

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak our aim has been clear: protecting public health and protecting the NHS. As we continue to move to open up our society and the economy in Wales, these aims still stand. 

Businesses should operate lawfully and safely. The Welsh Government has produced detailed guidance for a number of sectors on how to work safely and we encourage you to comply with this guidance.

There are five key steps all those responsible for work in Wales should implement to help us Keep Wales Safe - together. It complements all other guidance.

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough; high temperature; and/or 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. They must also stay home if a member of their household becomes unwell with these symptoms, or if they are contacted as part of the Test, Trace, Protect programme.

1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

Carry out a risk assessment through meaningful discussion with staff and/or their recognised trade union and share the results with your workforce. You should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Risk assessments are a legal requirement for pregnant women no matter the size of the business.

2. Take practical measures to work safely and actively implement Test, Trace, Protect in the workplace

The detailed guidance includes specific, practical measures that you can take to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing cleaning, handwashing and good hygiene procedures.  You should provide information to people entering or working at your premises about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.

Test, Trace, Protect (TTP) will work by testing those people who have coronavirus symptoms, asking them to isolate whist taking a test and waiting for a result and tracing those individuals who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus, requiring them to take precautions and self-isolate (for 14 days). Guidance is available for employers in Wales on how to Test, Trace, Protect.

3. Help staff to work from home whenever possible

The most effective way to minimise exposure to coronavirus is to enable some or all of your staff to work from home, some or all of their time. There is an expectation that employers should be as flexible as possible and make adjustments wherever that is possible. This may include issuing staff with laptops or mobile phones and facilitating communication with all.

4. Maintain 2m physical distancing in premises open to the public and where work is being carried out, where possible

Where working from home is not reasonably practicable, those responsible for workplaces or for premises open to the public must ensure that everything reasonable is done to maintain a 2 metre distance between people while they are working, including outdoor locations. This is a legal requirement in Wales under the Coronavirus Regulations. Those responsible must have regard to the Statutory Guidance, which has been issued to help you understand 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. 

5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage the risk of exposure to coronavirus

Where people are unable to observe the 2m distancing rule and where closer working is required, take all reasonable measures to minimise exposure to coronavirus, for example by:

  • limiting the level of face-to-face interaction.
  • using physical barriers.
  • increased hygiene, environmental cleanliness and providing reminders about the importance of hygiene.
  • washing hands well for 20 seconds with soap and drying thoroughly, or using alcohol based hand gels, before and after close contact.
  • minimising loud noises which will require people to shout over them.

The Welsh Government has issued Statutory Guidance on taking all reasonable measures to minimise exposure to coronavirus to which you must have regard.  Failing to take reasonable measures to minimise exposure to coronavirus is an offence in Wales, which on conviction may lead to a fine.

Five principles for safety at work

To support businesses to work safely the Welsh Government has adopted five principles for safety at work:

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

Everyone should approach the health, safety and well-being of members of the public and customers, as well as employees and contractors and anyone else on premises as paramount.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a new and fast moving situation for everyone. It will be challenging, worrying, and potentially stressful for many.

In terms of your workforce: you should help your staff to work from home for some or all of their time, if it is reasonably practicable for them to do so. Additionally, securing childcare and finding a safe way to travel to and from work may be difficult and a source of anxiety. Employers should be mindful that this could pose a barrier to an employee’s safe return to work.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses health risks to everyone, but for certain vulnerable people, there is an increased risk of becoming seriously ill. It is also evident that certain members of our community, such as those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, are impacted more than others. We do not yet have the evidence as to why groups are impacted more than others, so employers should take extra care to safeguard vulnerable employees.

There is more information on vulnerable groups and social distancing here: COVID-19 social distancing guidance for everyone in Wales. The online COVID-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool is a two-stage risk assessment for NHS and Social Care workers, which is suitable for use for all staff who are vulnerable or at risk of contracting COVID19, including people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Employers and business operators are still under legal obligations to ensure the decisions they make in response to COVID-19 do not directly or indirectly discriminate. You should not make biased assumptions and use those to disadvantage workers or block them from the job market.

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

Employers and business operators must continue to fulfil their legal duties under new and existing health and safety laws, including maintaining and protecting the health, safety, and well-being of employees and contractors, customers, and visitors.

In Wales, the Coronavirus Regulations require persons who are responsible for work or a premises that is open to the public to minimise exposure to coronavirus by:

a. Taking all reasonable measures to ensure that a distance of 2 metres between all persons is maintained on particular premises;

b. Ensuring that other reasonable measures are taken to minimise risk of exposure to the virus, in particular by limiting close face-to-face interaction and by improving hygiene; and

c. Providing information to those entering or working at premises about how to minimise risk.

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

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

You should maintain regular and meaningful communication with 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). This should identify and deal with risks before anyone re-starts work, and manage risks in the workplace on an ongoing basis. Staff should be involved with implementing control measures and reporting risks to protect workers and visitor.

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

To comply with the duties describe above you and your staff will need to change the way you work.  If you are currently operating, you are likely to have gone through a lot of this thinking already. We recommend that you use this document and the detailed sector guidance applicable to you to identify any further changes or improvements you may need to make. You must continuously review the measures you have put in place to make sure they are working. In your reviews, you should also consider if any measures may no longer be effective or if there are changes in the workplace that could lead to new risks. 

All workplaces are different, but there is a growing body of industry specific guidance and examples of good practice available to draw upon that can help you decide what actions you need to take.  At all times you should have regard to the Coronavirus Regulations and Statutory Guidance applicable at the time. This guidance and the detailed sector guidance will be updated periodically to reflect any regulatory changes and we encourage you to use this guidance to help you to implement any changes that may be required.

5. Communicate: We must all understand what to do

You are required by the Coronavirus Regulations to provide information to those entering or working at premises about how to minimise exposure to coronavirus.  It is therefore essential that there is clear, precise and constant communication between employers, employees, the self-employed, trade unions (if one exists), visitors and anyone else on the premises about the reasonable and proportionate actions being taken. It is important that everyone gets the same message and same instruction. Employers and business operators should ensure that communications are accessible for all. The aim is to give clear communications and assurance of the management of COVID-19 risk and to minimise exposure to the virus.

PPE Personal Protective Equipment

PPE protects the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment, such as face masks. Where you are already using PPE in your work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, you should continue to do so.

At the start of this document we described the steps you need to take to manage COVID-19 risk in the workplace. This includes working from home if that is possible, or and taking all reasonable measures to maintain 2m physical distancing on your premises where work is carried out or that are open to the public. When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not recommended. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through physical distancing, good hygiene routines and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.

The exception is clinical settings, like a hospital, or a small handful of other roles for which Public Health Wales advises use of PPE. For example, first responders and immigration enforcement officers. If you are in one of these groups you should refer to the Public Health Wales information for health and social care professionals.

Unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission to your workforce is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection to staff is extremely limited. However, if your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly. More information on PPE in Wales: Coronavirus and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Face coverings

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.

A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where physical distancing is not possible (see below). A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of higher specification PPE. It just needs to cover your nose and mouth. Similarly, face coverings are not the same as the PPE used to manage risks like dust and spray in an industrial context. Supplies of PPE, including face masks, must 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. 

It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small, therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing. These other measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace and we would therefore not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments.

Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. A three-layer face covering is recommended for the public for short-term use where other controls, such as physical distancing, are not possible.

From 27 July it is mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport. If worn, effective face coverings should have a water repellent outer layer if possible, and are comprised of 3 layers of different fabrics, which are non-stretchy. They should fit well with no air gaps around sides and under chin. They are not a substitute for other preventative measures, such as physical distancing. Where 2m physical distancing can be maintained in Wales we do not recommend wearing a face covering. We do not recommend that they are compulsory; however, we do support the public’s right to choose whether or not to wear them.

Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. This means reminding them of the following information: 

  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds (or use hand sanitiser) and dry thoroughly before putting a face covering on, and before 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.
  • avoid touching a face covering and do not hang it from the neck or pull down from the nose
  • change your face covering if it becomes damp or if damaged
  • continue to Wash your hands regularly.
  • wash your face covering daily
  • if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste and help keep Wales tidy
  • practicing physical distancing is the most effective way of reducing the transmission of COVID-19.

You can make face coverings at home and can find guidance on how to do this and use them safely.

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, or in a premises that is open to the public 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 contactors) 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 HSE Guide can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice.

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