Whilst the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continue to carry out spot checks and inspections on businesses across all sectors to ensure they are COVID-secure, it is now focussing its resources in areas where transmission rates are rising to help stop new COVID-19 variants spreading. The HSE is working closely with local authorities to ensure a consistent approach in the sectors they regulate, which includes hospitality and retail.
The message from the HSE is that with new variants spreading, it is important that employers continue to apply all the control measures including ventilation, social distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning regimes. Being COVID-secure means being adaptable to the current guidelines and the HSE is keen to support businesses achieve this. The HSE has said that its inspectors are visiting businesses to enable them to give expert advice on how to manage the risks and protect individuals including workers, customers and visitors, and this approach recognises the fact that employers are continually having to adapt their working environments to manage the risk posed by coronavirus as the pandemic continues.
However, whilst the HSE has said that it will provide specific advice to assist where businesses are not managing the risk, it does remain an enforcing agency and it can and will take action to stop work practices until they are made safe, issue enforcement notices where necessary, or even prosecute where a business fails to comply.
Businesses should therefore expect a thorough inspection to be undertaken by the HSE if an when one of their inspectors attends. They are likely to want to see all relevant documents supporting the COVID-19 secure status of a business to ensure they are in line with the current government guidance, but their investigation is unlikely to stop there. Whilst on site, HSE inspectors will visit all areas of the premises to check the physical measures put in place, such as arrangements to enable social distancing or alternative measures where this is not possible, handwashing and sanitising facilities as well as the availability of ventilation within the workspace. They may also speak directly to employees to ensure the measures identified are being rolled out and complied with across the business.
Businesses should also be warned that a failure to participate or cooperate with the HSE spot checks could lead to enforcement action.
It is clear that the HSE does intend to provide ongoing support to businesses in these challenging times, but the option for enforcement remains available to their inspectors where there are areas of concern. A reminder of the steps that should be taken to help keep workplaces COVID-secure are displayed on the HSE website, which include carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment, maintaining social distancing and keeping the workplace clean whilst also implementing handwashing and hygiene procedures.