Protecting vulnerable workers during the COVID-19 outbreak

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance on protecting vulnerable workers from COVID-19.

Man is mask in warehouseDuring the outbreak, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (shielded). Shielded workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They cannot return to workplaces before at least July 31, 2020 in Scotland, from August 1, 2020 in England and from August 16, 2020 in Wales when shielding is paused.

HSE said: “As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect workers from harm. You should make sure you consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and put controls in place to reduce that risk."

Supporting shielded workers returning to work
HSE said: “You should talk to shielded workers about their working arrangements and take every possible step to enable your workers to work from home.

“When shielding is paused, where it is not possible for workers to work from home, you must regularly review your risk assessment, and do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect those workers from harm.

“If workers are in the shielded categories, explain what will be done to protect them, for example doing tasks where stringent social distancing guidelines can be followed.”

This also applies to workers living with someone in the shielded group.

Pregnant workers
HSE said: “During the outbreak, pregnant workers have been advised to follow stringent social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

“There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother.

“Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They should have received a shielding letter from the NHS advising them:

  • to stay at home where possible;
  • that they are not expected to be in a workplace.”

Employers will need to take this into account in their risk assessment.

HSE added: “If you cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should suspend the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.”



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