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Social Distancing

Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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This advice has been written to assist employers, businesses and workers to make every effort to implement and control social distancing measures set out by the government as we move to the next phase of our fight against coronavirus (COVID-19). This guidance will help to keep businesses open, operate safely and protect everyone in the workplace to stay alert, control the virus and, in doing so, save lives.

The current advice on social distancing in the workplace:

By law, all workplaces should be set up to meet the government's new "COVID-19 Secure" guidelines. Employees who can work from home, and their workplace is open, should be encouraged to do so. If it is not practicable for employees to work from home, and their workplace is open, other measures should be considered. The most important of which is social distancing - to maintain at least two metres (6 ft) in the workplace wherever possible and regularly washing hands and surfaces. Social distancing applies to all parts of a business such as entrances and exits, canteens, break rooms and similar settings. Social distancing also applies for when people are arriving and departing work, while in work, and when travelling between sites.

What if Social Distancing Guidelines Cannot be Followed?

There may be some activities in the workplace where social distancing is not possible. Businesses should consider whether these activities need to continue for the business to operate. It may be that shift working, staggering processes or considering other actions can enable employees to work effectively at a safe distance from one another. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.

What Happens to Businesses Who Flout Social Distancing Rules?

Businesses or venue operations in contravention of the law will be committing an offence. Local authorities and the police will monitor compliance. Where businesses and venues that breach the law, will be subject to prohibition notices and fixed penalty notices. Businesses that continue to contravene the law will be forced to close. Individuals and companies who do not pay may also be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose potentially unlimited fines. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also warned that employers who do not enforce social distancing measures could have works suspended and face fines. In Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) can also turn up, unannounced, at any time to inspect compliance to the Return to Work Safely Protocol is being implemented correctly. Consequences for both UK and Ireland range from advice to an enforcement notice, a fine for breaching regulations or a prohibition notice, that shuts down some or all activity.

Why Social Distancing is Important

When someone infected coughs or sneezes, their droplets are passed to others through their mouth, nose or eyes. By keeping to a social distance of at least two metres (6 ft) minimises the risk of catching and spreading coronavirus (COVID-19)

Think About the Risk

Employers have a duty to assess and manage risks in the workplace and a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety.

Employers need to undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment to address and identify sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace. The risk assessment will help to decide whether everything has been done that needs to. Employers, workers and health and safety representatives should come together to fully understand the risks and how to work safely.

Where the HSE or local authorities identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with the public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, appropriate actions will be taken to improve workplace risks. Any workers who have any concerns are advised to contact the HSE.

Risk Assessment

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