Category Archives: Coronavirus


COVID isolation period cut to five full days in England as Sajid Javid announces new rules

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced a change to the self-isolation policy in England from Monday 17th January 2022 after weeks of pressure to ease a staffing crisis in the NHS.

Currently people who test positive for Covid can be freed midway through their seventh full day of isolation, if they test negative on days six and seven.

But Mr Javid today announced that period will be cut by between 24 and 48 hours, after huge pressure from Tory MPs and a staffing crisis in the NHS.

Under the new rules, people will have isolate for at least five full days, starting at 12.01am the day after their positive test or the start of symptoms.

They will then be able to leave isolation at the start of the sixth full day – if they have tested negative for Covid on both Day 5 and Day 6.

Mr Javid said with testing, boosters and antivirals, “it’s no wonder we are the freest country in Europe. This country is leading the world in learning to live with Covid.”

But it came amid a furious Commons clash, as Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting condemned the PM’s party rule-breaking and said: “The Prime Minister is not fit to lick the boots of NHS staff in this country.”

Your first “full day” of isolation starts at 12.01am, the calendar day after you test positive or show symptoms. So if you test positive at 11am, ‘Day 1’ starts 13 hours later.

This suggests the new total isolation time will, in reality, be somewhere between five and six days depending on what time the test came back or symptoms started.

However, it’s thought people will be able to take their Day 6 test at one minute past midnight if they wish and go out straight away.

Mr Javid said the change would “maximise activity in the economy and education”, adding: “UK Health Security Agency data shows around two thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of Day 5.”

Mr Javid had faced enormous pressure to cut the isolation period after the US cut isolation to five days, as long as people’s symptoms had cleared by then, followed by five days of mask-wearing.

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From the Mirror.

Published · Updated

Can staff refuse testing and vaccines?

How employers can deal with a situation where staff refuse to take the Covid-19 vaccine and/or partake in in-house testing.

Can staff refuse testing and vaccines?

Can staff refuse testing and vaccines?

Although a number of Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the UK, the virus remains a present threat, with many employers asking how they can help to reduce the virus’ spread. Workplace Covid-19 testing and vaccine take-up come to mind; but how can employers deal with staff refusals and what might make staff refuse in the first place?

In-house testing

Employers whose staff have returned to work as lockdown rules are eased in the UK may have already begun mass testing their employees for Covid-19, or are thinking about doing so. Mass testing in the workplace can enable employers to spot asymptomatic positive cases of the virus and reduce the possibility of it spreading to other members of staff.

Employers in the position to offer in-house testing may have started encouraging their employees to take the opportunity to have regular testing when it is offered to them. The word “encourage” is emphasised here as it is unlikely that there will be a clause in employee contracts allowing employers to require them to be tested. To enforce it is therefore likely to be an unlawful change to contract terms and conditions.

Having said that, if enforcing in-house testing on staff is not advisable, this means that staff can refuse to be tested if they do not want to be. Perhaps they would prefer to test themselves at home? Some members of staff may find the testing process, of taking throat and mouth swabs, to be very uncomfortable, and others may feel it unnecessary if they are not experiencing any symptoms. In this case employers should attempt to reason with the employees and put the point across to them that the implementation of in-house testing is a crucial one to prevent asymptomatic cases from going undetected, resulting in the continued spread of the virus.

By having in-house testing on offer, employers would be doing their part to ensure that they are safeguarding their employees’ health and safety. However, this would be made difficult if employees are unreasonably refusing to be tested when offered. It may therefore be necessary to keep staff working from home for longer, or implement social distancing in the workplace so that contact is limited between staff members.

Disciplinary action may be necessary, however, as any employee who refuses to be tested runs the risk of unknowingly putting their colleagues’ health and safety at risk. This should be a last resort.

Vaccines

When it comes to vaccines, arguably, the biggest question that many employers will have is whether they can legally oblige their employees to take the vaccine before returning to work. As with testing, the Government has not chosen to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory, except for the care sector.

The Government confirmed on 17 June 2021 that the vaccine would be compulsory for care home staff and it is estimated that 10,000 care homes will be affected. The law was in place from 1 October 2021 and staff have until 11 November 2021 to get vaccinated, unless they have provided a temporary self-certification exemption form available from the Government. Formal confirmation, via the NHS Covid Pass or presentation of a MATB1 form (for pregnant staff), must be provided by 24 December 2021. From that date, the self-certificated form can no longer be used. Affected staff were given a 16-week grace period to get the vaccine or face being redeployed or lose their job. This only applies to England. Scotland and Wales have confirmed they will not be mandating the Covid-19 vaccine for care home staff.

The Government is also considering making both the Covid vaccine and the flu vaccine mandatory for deployment in other healthcare sectors in England.

For the majority of employers, the most appropriate course of action will be to, again, encourage staff to take the vaccine.

If employees refuse to take the vaccine because they are not contractually obliged to do so, employers should think about sharing information with staff about the vaccine from official sources. This reduces the likelihood of them refusing to take the vaccine because of fears stemming from the spread of false information.

As the vaccine may be seen as much more medically invasive when compared to testing, refusal can result for a number of reasons which should not be disregarded, eg allergies, pregnancy, etc. Employers are therefore not advised to take disciplinary action against employees. Doing this may mean employers risk facing claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal (including constructive unfair dismissal). To deal with this, it may be necessary to, in addition to sending out information from reliable sources, keep staff working from home for longer or test staff at work to reduce the chances of the virus spreading within the workplace.

How a policy might help

To facilitate testing and vaccine roll-out, employers can implement a Covid-19 testing and vaccine policy which employees should have easy access to. The policy should set out why testing at work and the take-up of the vaccine are encouraged, who will manage the testing process (third party/trained staff), where the testing will take place and how, as well as details on how test results will be processed.

What does all this mean?

In-house/rapid testing and the Covid-19 vaccine are big topics which both need to be handled with the utmost care. Although the actions employers take will be similar in both cases, it is important to look at them separately to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately and that, most importantly, they are led by encouragement rather than enforcement.

Rapid and in-house testing as well as the vaccines are not required to be taken-up by law and it is ultimately up to employers to encourage it. That said, unless employers can clearly justify why mandating mass testing and requiring staff to be vaccinated is necessary, it should remain optional.

Enforcing testing in some cases and vaccinations, and disciplining employees who refuse to partake, could lead to costly constructive dismissal or even discrimination claims, unless such an action is justifiable. Discrimination may arise where employees have valid reasons for their refusal which are connected to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

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Published · Updated

Employers must ensure workplaces are well ventilated to minimise COVID-19 spread

Employers must ensure workplaces are well ventilated to minimise COVID-19 spread

Employers must ensure workplaces are well ventilated to minimise COVID-19 spread

Employers must ensure workplaces are well ventilated to minimise COVID-19 spread

Businesses are being reminded that they have a legal duty to ensure that their premises have an adequate supply of fresh air in enclosed areas as part of a broad strategy to minimise the risk of the coronavirus from spreading via workplaces. 

With most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Great Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated its guidance on ventilation and air conditioning as part of a package of preventative measures to help safely manage the increasing number of people returning to the workplace and to reduce infection risk. 

The guidance explains how natural and mechanical ventilation can reduce coronavirus in the air while also reiterating the importance of workers keeping clean and washing their hands frequently. The updated advice also reemphasises the importance of risk assessments to identify other control measures such as social distancing and the wearing of masks. 

People can improve natural ventilation in the workplace by doing simple things like opening windows and doors.

The use of CO2 monitors in the workplace can also help. Although CO2 levels are not a direct measure of possible exposure to COVID-19, checking levels using a monitor can help you identify poorly ventilated areas.

The HSE has announced that it will continue to carry out spot checks and inspections to support businesses and ensure they understand its working safely guidance.

Employers should prioritise preventative measures and adds that good ventilation will play a critical role in controlling the risk of coronavirus as businesses increasingly encourage home-based staff to return after a prolonged period working remotely. 

Risk assessments must be in place to identify COVID-19 as a hazard and the associated risks. They will also identify who is at most risk and the measures to take. Companies should revisit their COVID risk assessment frequently to ensure that any additional controls necessary are identified to make the workplace secure from the virus.   

Employee engagement is critical to managing risks successfully. To maximise buy-in and thereby improve the effectiveness of risk assessments, the HSE has produced a separate guide to help employers consult with staff on how to work safely.

IOSH has published its own return to work guidance, which notes that while masks and social distancing have been the more visible signs of controls, good ventilation is a largely unseen, albeit highly effective, measure to control the risk of infection.

Contact us if you have further queries.

What are the COVID rules for those who are double vaccinated?

covid-19

What are the COVID rules for those who are double-vaccinated?

Those who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate when coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus from Monday

The Government has confirmed that those who are fully vaccinated with the Covid jab will no longer need to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

This will go ahead from Monday, August 16, meaning anyone fully vaccinated will only need to quarantine if they test positive for Covid themselves. This also applies to those 18 and under, who will not need to legally self isolate from Monday if coming into close contact with someone with the virus.

In the confirmation of the change in rules, the Government said: “Getting two doses of a vaccine has tipped the odds in our favour and allowed us to safely reclaim our lost freedoms”.

What are the rules for those who are double-jabbed from Monday 16th August?

1. Quarantining with symptoms

Anyone who tests positive for the virus will still need to legally quarantine until their symptoms improve and after they have tested negative for Covid.

2. Taking PCR Tests

Everyone will still be advised to take PCR tests if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. This is to check they do not have the virus themselves, as the vaccination is not 100% effective.

This includes health care workers, if they test negative through a PCR test they can return to work and will still need to take lateral flow tests for 10 days.

3. Self-isolating after August 16

Anyone who was alerted to self-isolate before August 16 and their quarantine days ends after August 16 can leave isolation from Monday.

4. Second jab 14 days before August 16

The new rules only apply to those who have had their second vaccination within 14 days before August 16. Anyone who has had their second vaccine below 14 days before August 16 will still need to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive.

After 14 days after receiving the second vaccination, they can follow the new rules or not needing to self-isolate.

5. Advised to wear masks and be cautious

Everyone is still advised to wear masks in busy or enclosed areas, particularly to those who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive and those coming into close contact with someone who tested positive are encouraged to “limit contact with other people” as the Government explained.

6. NHS Track and Trace system

People will still be contacted by the NHS Track and Trace system if they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive but will instead be asked to take a PCR test, rather than to isolate.

7. NHS Covid app

The NHS Covid app will be able to prove if people have been double vaccinated or if they are under 18 years. Anyone who has not had two doses or a full vaccination course will still have to self-isolate. The self-isolation rules have helped maintain and control the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking about this Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “Asking the close contacts of people with COVID-19 to self-isolate has played a critical role in helping us get this virus under control, and millions of people across the UK have made enormous sacrifices by doing this, every single one of these sacrifices has helped us protect the NHS and save lives.”

Take care. Keep safe!

Contact Walker Health and Safety Services Limited for further information.

(Correct on day of posting)

 

Face coverings — implications of the change in rules

Coronavirus has created the most challenging and difficult time for us all

Coronavirus has created the most challenging and difficult time for us all

With the Government confirming that face coverings will no longer be compulsory in shops, hospitality and on public transport in England from 19 July 2021, employers will be asking what this means for them.

From 19 July 2021, there will be a shift by the Government from instructing us all to follow strict rules to a greater emphasis on individuals making their own decisions on what steps they feel they should be taking to keep themselves safe. This shift of responsibility gives employers more flexibility when it comes to deciding whether to require staff to continue wearing face coverings in the workplace but also leaves employers with a difficult decision to make.

The Government will provide guidance on where individuals may still choose to wear a face covering, for example in places where they come into contact with those who are outside of their bubble. However, ultimately, in the workplace the decision will be left to the employer.

What does this mean in practice?

Should employers keep asking employees to wear face coverings at work when the Government guidance changes?

As an employer, your duty of care to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees does not change because the Government states that people no longer have to wear face coverings. When making their decision, employers should consider the nature of the workforce and listen to individual concerns. There are likely to be some employees who will be relieved to not have to wear face coverings; however, as they are worn to protect people around an individual, rather than the wearers themselves, there are also likely to be a number of employees who are concerned about the implications of not wearing one. Furthermore, you may have younger staff who have not had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, or vulnerable/extremely vulnerable staff who are concerned about colleagues not wearing face coverings.

The organisation should review its Covid risk assessments in view of the changes. This will help you decide on which controls, such as the continued use of face coverings, might need to be retained. You can then update your policy on face coverings in the workplace and communicate it to all staff, so employees know where they stand. If you decide to make face coverings mandatory in the workplace, remember that some employees may continue to be exempt.

Alternatively, your policy may be that face coverings are no longer required but staff can wear a face covering if they want to, or that face coverings are required only in certain circumstances, such as meetings over a certain size, etc.

Be prepared that you may receive some resistance from whichever group has not achieved their preferred outcome. Employees should be expected to comply with workplace rules set by the employer. However, to manage any such resistance, listen to individual circumstances and explain how these have been taken into account in your risk assessments.

Bear in mind that it is not just in the actual workplace that employees may be concerned; public transport may be a worry to some employees if others are no longer wearing face coverings, especially at peak travel times.

If we get rid of face coverings in the workplace, what practical things can employers do to alleviate concerns?

There are various measures that you can consider from a HR and health and safety point of view to help make employees feel more comfortable with the transition to a face covering free workplace.

  • Double down on hand sanitiser, hygiene measures and workplace cleanliness.
  • Consider keeping social distancing measures in place even after the removal of the Government’s social distancing guidance.
  • Keep the workplace well ventilated.
  • Continue with regular Covid testing in work.
  • Let employees wear face coverings if they wish to continue.
  • Have a rule in your Face Covering Policy that if an employee would like a colleague to wear a face covering when in close proximity, that they do so.
  • Empower employees to tell colleagues when they are not comfortable with someone being so close to them without a face covering on.
  • Remind employees to be respectful of their colleagues’ wishes; employees can have many reasons, which are not immediately apparent, for being cautious.
  • Do another vaccine awareness drive to increase the number of vaccinated employees.
  • Consider full pay for employees on sick leave with Covid (it is difficult for an employee to prove that they contracted Covid at work but it could alleviate some concerns if employees know that if they do fall ill with the virus (at work or otherwise) that they would not suffer financially).
  • Reconsider any stance on working from home, especially for vulnerable workers, until as much of the workforce as possible is vaccinated, despite the removal of the Government’s working from home guidance.
  • If employees are concerned about using public transport, consider allowing employees to adjust working hours so they can avoid peak travel.

Takeaway points

From 19 July 2021, it will be the employer’s choice whether to require employees to wear face coverings in the workplace or not. This will be a difficult decision for many employers trying to balance the individual circumstances of the workforce.

Whichever route the employer decides to take is likely to meet with some resistance from one group or another. Make sure you listen to employee concerns and redo your workplace coronavirus risk assessment. Review this regularly to ensure your risk control measures are working as expected. Have a clear, reasonable policy and be prepared to justify your approach.

Contact us if you require further information.