Social distancing in the workplace – new Regulations

The Welsh Government has issued new Regulations on taking reasonable measures to maintain social distancing in the workplace. This means the requirements are now a Regulation in Wales and not just guidance.

Dawn Bowden AM said “I must admit that one of the most frustrating, and problematic, aspects of the last three weeks has been trying to offer general advice to constituents about those places of work which remain open and currently continue in business. I am dealing with people who have genuine worries about risks to their health, the welfare of colleagues and especially vulnerable family members when they return home from work”.

Dawn added “Of course it is not currently possible to visit and view these workplaces, so you must trust what people tell you. I also understand the desire of those businesses which have not been ordered to close to try and maintain their operations. The overall guidance of UK and Welsh Governments provides for this. However this gives rise to a wide range of situations that the new Regulations seeks to address and advise upon”. Public Health Wales issue guidance for employers and businesses in this situation. See here

The new Regulations

The Welsh Government state (extracts reproduced here but the read link here for full Regulations):

 

This guidance is issued under regulation 7A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (the “Coronavirus Regulations”)[1]. It is aimed at any person who required by the Coronavirus Regulations to take all reasonable measures to ensure that a distance of 2 metres is maintained on particular premises.

The purpose of this Guidance is to help businesses and other organisations understand what kind of reasonable measures they can take to ensure that persons on their premises stay 2 metres apart.

Taking all reasonable measures

But the Welsh Government has chosen to impose a legal requirement on workplaces to ensure that everything reasonable is done to minimise transmission of coronavirus.  The guidance is intended 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.

This is not about the whether the businesses subject to this requirement work, it is about the way they work. It is about taking proportionate action where it is practicable to do so.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of examples of reasonable measures which may be relevant:

  • Reducing the number of people working on the premises at any one time– increasing the space between people by reducing the total number of people in attendance.
  • Increasing space between staff – for example on a production line leaving 2 m gaps between people and indicating spacing with markings.
  • Consider appropriate provision of rest space – is there a congregation of workers at a certain time?  Could additional space be provided, or breaks stagger.
  • Altering tasks undertaken – making adjustments to the way that work is done, to reduce contact.
  • Stagger shifts to minimise people on site and to reduce congestion at the point of shift changes.
  • Carrying a passenger in the back seat rather than the front seat of a taxi would be a reasonable measure

Where reasonable measures may not be possible:

Examples of the types of situation in which it would not be possible or appropriate for people to stay 2 metres apart for the duration of their work time, include:

  • Provision of personal services, including in the home.
  • Tasks that require two or more people to undertake them safely, including heavy lifting or carrying dangerous chemicals, although there may be measures that can be adopted elsewhere in the workplace.
  • Education and childcare settings – especially where young children cannot understand the concept of physical distancing and where the appropriate support from adult workers may require closer contact.
  • Exceptions where close contact is required between workers and the users of services, although again there can be measures in the wider workplace which would minimise the risk of transmission.
  • Where workers are required to travel together.
  • Where dual working is to ensure safety.
  • Working in confined spaces, for example repairing infrastructure for utilities.

The key purpose of the regulations is to minimise the risk of transmission of coronavirus.  Where contact or closer working is required, it is important that other measures are considered, for example:

  • minimising the level of interaction
  • physical barriers
  • improved hygiene and reminders about the importance of hygiene
  • washing hands well for 20 seconds with soap after close contact
  • ensuring those with symptoms are not present on the premises

Enforcement

However, one reason why the Welsh Government has decided to go beyond guidance and include a duty in law is so that enforcement is possible, where it is necessary.

Both the police and local authorities have powers to enforce the restrictions on businesses, services and workplaces imposed by the regulations. The regulations provide for enforcement to be carried out by—

  • police officers
  • police community support officers
  • persons designated by local authorities (for example environmental health officers)
  • persons designated by the Welsh Minister

 

Dawn Bowden AM concluded “The real purpose behind these new Regulations is to help us all tackle the spread of this dreadful virus including through action in workplaces. I know that local employers will want to play their part in this task and to help our NHS in these critical few weeks. As a community we will remember those who took all reasonable measures to help keep people safe”.

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