Health and Safety FAQs

Health, Safety and Safeguarding FAQs regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19), including face coverings/masks

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Face Coverings

Whilst the official advice from PHE and the Department for Education is that the majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, Voice believes that, should you want to wear a mask, or deem it necessary in your place of work, then you should not be prohibited from wearing one.  

As we have always maintained, members should engage with the risk assessment process as we believe this is the best way for you to understand, and have input on, the measures that are being put in place. The school's “specific circumstances” and the use of masks (both mandated and voluntary) should have been considered during the risk assessment process. This may be particularly appropriate for staff in certain roles, eg. office staff speaking with parents and visitors. 
 
In England and Wales, children and staff travelling to school on public transport MUST wear a face covering and should remove this upon entry to the school.   There is no requirement in Wales to wear a face covering on dedicated home to school transport (Regulation 12A of Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020). 

According to guidance from the Welsh Government this is because:  

  • the overall risk to learners from COVID-19 is very low 
  • they do not mix with the general public on those journeys  
  • dedicated home to school transport often carries the same group of learners on a regular basis  
  • the predictability, which public transport does not offer in the same way, will allow for planning so that protective measures can be put in place  
  • the absence of evidence of any substantial benefit from the use of face coverings compared to the potential risks of incorrect use and disposal.   

Members should consider carefully the needs of children when making a decision on wearing a mask in the workplace and should consider whether other forms of PPE would be more appropriate – especially for those children who rely on lip reading such as the deaf and hearing impaired.  

The World Health Organisation published a statement on 21 August, that “adults and children aged 12 and over should wear a mask.”   

In the UK, from 1 September, Schools and colleges will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances.  Voice recommends that your employer should make their decision by following a robust risk assessment process. 

Where schools decide it is appropriate to require face coverings, it is vital that that they are worn correctly and that clear instructions are provided on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings, to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission.  This includes cleaning of hands and the safe storage of them in individual, sealable plastic bags between use.  

Where there is a local lockdown those in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings when moving around, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. According to the advice, it will not usually be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom. 

No-one should be excluded from education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering and the government recommends that education settings should take steps to have a small contingency supply available to meet such needs. 

Exemptions 

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. For example people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate. The same exemptions will apply in education settings, and we would expect teachers and other staff to be sensitive to those needs. 

To read the full guidance please click here

Safe Workplaces?

According to the Prime Minister’s announcement on May 10 employers should ensure that the workplace is safe by meeting the COVID-secure standards – these can be found here

If you have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable, you should remain at home wherever possible. You can use our template letter to support this position with your employer and should provide any GP letter or other medical evidence as required. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, depending on your job role. 

There are a lot of questions that we have put to the government regarding the full re-opening of schools and early years settings, questions about – toilets, handwashing and cleaning, the correct equipment, space or resources to manage the pupils and ensure social distancing measures and issues around PPE.   

What is essential is that all of the above is borne in mind.  That every employer undertakes robust and transparent risk-assessment of every different aspect of re-opening and share these with their employees to ensure that any return can be done as safely as possible. 

5 Steps to Working Safely 

There are five basic principles of COVID-19 workplace control and these should be at the forefront of considerations when developing the safe systems of work to become COVID Secure 

  1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. 
  2. Develop and implement cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures. 
  3. Help people to work from home wherever possible. 
  4. Maintain 2 metre social distancing where possible.  
  5. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk by implementing additional measures. 

Should I engage with the risk assessment process? 

Voice is encouraging members to engage in the risk assessment process so that you are having your opinions heard and your concerns addressed. You are entitled to see a risk assessment and although your employer doesn’t have to produce a risk assessment for each individual employee, they do need to identify the ‘at risk’ groups and individuals (including BAME) and this may mean they need to produce individual risk assessments for those impacted to ensure their health and safety. 

Since you know your workplace best, you are the most appropriate person to know if the risks identified are being addressed, however, Voice has produced a risk assessment checklist, which although not exhaustive, may help guide you on what you should be looking for. Voice have also produced an individual risk assessment for members to use for themselves. 

First aid cover and qualifications during the coronavirus outbreak 

If first aid cover within your school/setting is reduced because of coronavirus or you can’t get the first aid training you need, your employer should take steps to review the first aid needs assessment.  They must determine if they can still provide the cover needed for the workers that are present and the activities that they are doing in order to comply with the law. 

Keep enough first aid cover 

If there are fewer people coming into your workplace it may still be safe to operate with reduced first aid cover.  You could share the first aiders of another school or setting, but they should be present on site and have the knowledge, experience and availability to cover the first aid needs of your setting.  

Shared first aiders must: 

  • be aware of the type of injuries or illnesses that you identified in your first aid needs assessment and have the training and skills to address them; 
  • know enough about your work environment and its first aid facilities; and
  • be able to get to the workplace in good time if needed. 

Whoever provides the temporary cover must make sure they do not adversely affect their own first aid cover.  

Can the existing First aid certificates be extended? 

Yes. If your first aid certificate expires on or after 16 March 2020 and you cannot access requalification training because of coronavirus it is possible to request a 3-month extension. This applies to: 

  • Offshore Medic (OM) 
  • Offshore First Aid (OFA) 
  • First Aid at Work (FAW) 
  • Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW) 

To qualify for the extension, you must be able to explain why you haven’t been able to requalify and demonstrate what steps you have taken to access the training, if asked to do so.  You must also highlight it with your employer and ensure there is a written record to prove the actions you have taken. 

SELF-ISOLATION 

What are the 'rules' on self-isolation? 

As of Monday 14 September, the general rules are that you must self-isolate immediately if: 

  • you have any symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste);
  • you've tested positive for coronavirus;
  • you live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive;
  • someone in your 'support bubble' has symptoms or has tested positive;
  • you're told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace;
  • you arrive in the UK from a country with a high coronavirus risk 

If you have symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus, you'll usually need to self-isolate for at least 10 days. 

I need to self isolate. What must I do?

If you have to self-isolate, you must inform your employer immediately. 

If you then develop symptoms, ensure that your employer knows this and book a time to be tested. If you test positive, you will be notified by text, email or phone and asked to log on to the NHS Test and Trace website. You will then be asked for some personal information to assist in the tracing of people you may have come into contact with.  

It is illegal for your employer to knowingly permit a worker (including an agency worker) to attend any place other than where the individual is self-isolating.  This includes individuals who are required to self-isolate because they live with someone who has tested positive.  So, if your employer knows a worker has tested positive (or lives with someone who has tested positive), they are now responsible for stopping the worker from working (unless they can work from home).  Any employer who fails to do so will face a fine, starting at £1,000. 

 Where self-isolation means buying deliveries (takeaway food, online deliveries, etc.) it is important that wherever possible you avoid direct contact with the person making the delivery – arrange for deliveries to be left on doorsteps or outside the room. 

Will I be paid if I am required to self-isolate? 

You should receive SSP if: 

  • you are self-isolating because you have tested positive for Covid;
  • you are waiting for test results because you are suspected of having Covid;
  • you have Covid symptoms;
  • you are living with someone with Covid symptoms;
  • you are in the same social support bubble as someone with symptoms or who has tested positive;
  • You have been told to self-isolate by Test, Trace and Protect (Wales) or Track and Trace (England) or by Public Health officials;
  • you have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or by Public Health officials; or
  • you have been advised to stay at home for a period of 14 days before going into hospital for a surgical or other hospital procedure 

The usual rules about 'waiting days' don't apply and SSP is payable from the first day of absence. 

If your employees can work from home whilst they are self-isolating, they should receive their normal pay. 

Please note: anyone who is self-isolating because they have returned to the UK from abroad and have to quarantine is not entitled to SSP. 

How long do I self-isolate for if I develop symptoms? 

Anyone who develops symptoms should go home and arrange to be tested.  If you test positive, you must remain at home for at least 10 days. 

Following a NEGATIVE test, you can return to work provided: 

  • everyone you live with or who is in your support bubble who has symptoms tests negative; 
  • you have not been told to self-isolate for 14 days by NHS Test and Trace; and 
  • you feel well and have not had a fever for 48 hours 

However, the letter containing the test result advises individuals to talk to their employer before returning to work. 

Do I have to tell my employer if I have had a positive result? 

Yes.  

You must follow your usual procedure to explain why you are not in work on the first day and keep your employer updated if you are likely to be absent for more than 14 days.  

You cannot visit your GP to obtain a fit note, but you can request a certificate online. 

Should I self-isolate if I have been in 'close contact' with someone suspected of having coronavirus? 

Government guidance says that close contacts don't have to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms themselves or they are asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service or a public health professional (which will only happen if their contact has tested positive).  

However, you should: 

  • avoid contact with people at high increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (such as people with pre-existing medical conditions) 
  • take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene 
  • self-isolate if you go onto show signs of coronavirus 

In a work context, a close contact is a person who has had face to face contact (within one metre) of the person who has tested positive for coronavirus including, being coughed on, having skin to skin contact or contact within one metre for one minute. It also includes people who have been within two metres for more than 15 minutes of the person testing positive or has travelled in a small vehicle, such as a car (even on a short journey) or a plane. 

What happens if my child is told to self-isolate? 

If your child is told to self-isolate because they have symptoms, you (and any other children or adults in the same house) will have to follow the stay at home guidance which says: 

"If you have symptoms of COVID-19 however mild, self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started... and arrange to have a test" 

"After 10 days, if you still have a temperature you should continue to self-isolate and seek medical advice. You do not need to self-isolate after 10 days if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell or taste, as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection has gone." 

"If you live with others, all other household members need to stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the household became ill or if they do not have symptoms, from the day their test was taken. If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for at least 10 days from when their symptoms appear, regardless of what day they are on in their original 14-day isolation period." 

What if my child’s ‘bubble’ is sent home? 

The government guidance is not particularly clear about what happens if a child is sent home because someone in their 'bubble' has tested positive.  In many cases the child will be asked to take a test and, even if their test is negative, may still be advised to self-isolate for 14 days.  However, their family (including any siblings who may be in the same school) do not have to self-isolate unless one of them develops symptoms, tests positive for coronavirus or they are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. 

Employees have the right to take unpaid leave to deal with an emergency, such as collecting children from school at short notice because they are ill or have been told to self-isolate.  However, you are only entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to make arrangements for their care.  We expect your employer to be flexible to support you in this, but it would be unreasonable to expect 14 days off as emergency leave.  Technically, you have to give at least 21 days' notice but many employers are relaxing those rules. 

Alternatively, you may be able to take either paid or unpaid holiday. 

Testing for Key Workers

The UK government has established a new network of Covid testing facilities for key workers. This is in addition to the programme of testing in the NHS for clinical purposes and testing of key workers in Health and Social Care. 

Testing will allow symptomatic key workers and their household members, including those under 5, to know whether or not they have the virus. This will in turn keep essential services running. 

If you have symptoms of Covid-19 then please follow the guidance to register and get tested by following the appropriate links below: 

England & Scotland 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested 

Wales 

https://gov.wales/critical-workers-testing-policy-coronavirus-covid-19-html 

Northern Ireland 

https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/coronavirus-national-testing-programme-key-workers 

Additionally, your employer may be able to refer you for a test via the employer referral portal. 

Education and childcare settings and providers should use their local supply chains to obtain PPE. 

If education or childcare settings cannot obtain the PPE they need they should approach their local authority (LA). Local authorities should support them to access local PPE markets and available stock locally, including through coordinating the redistribution of available supplies between settings according to priority needs. 

If the local authority is not able to meet the PPE needs of education and childcare providers, the LA should approach their nearest local resilience forum (LRF) which will allocate stock if it is available once the needs of other vital services locally have been met. If neither the LA or LRF is able to respond to an education or childcare setting’s unmet urgent need for PPE, the setting will need to make their own judgement in line with their risk assessment as to whether it is safe to continue to operate. 

What if I don’t feel it is safe to return to school? 

The government has, on numerous occasions, expressed the importance of employers being flexible as workplaces across the country begin to reopen. If there is a reason you feel it would be unsafe for you to return to the workplace then you should discuss this with your manger/Headteacher. This may include the fact you are caring for vulnerable children or the fact that you yourself are vulnerable.  

If, after having engaged with the risk assessment process, you still do not feel it is safe to return to work, then please call us on 01332 372337 and our duty officer will be happy to help you with this issue.  

There is legal protection which can support you if you are required to work in situations which are unsafe, and no actions have been taken by your employer to mitigate against and reduce those risks.  However, you must seek advice from Voice on 01332 372337 before you consider taking any action. 

  • Section 44 of The Employment Rights Act 1996 allows for an employee to leave work and/or refuse to return if there is “serious and imminent danger”, without the risk of “detriment of any act”. This does not count as industrial action as this is set in law.   
  • Section 100 of The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides protections if you are dismissed because: 
  1. you bring health and safety risks to the attention of your employer;
  2. you are designated to take action to reduce risks; 
  3. in circumstances of danger which you reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which you could not reasonably have been expected to avert, you left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to your place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work; or 
  4. you took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect yourself and your colleagues from the danger. 

Will self-isolation be recorded against my sickness record?  

 The government recommends that self-isolation as part of the contact tracing system should not be recorded against an employee’s sickness record. 

Test and Trace

From 28 May 2020 the NHS Test & Trace system came online. This means that people who have been notified that they have had contact with an infected person must stay at home. (Unless the notified individuals develop symptoms, individuals in their household will not have to self-isolate.) 

During this period of isolation, you can continue to work from home.  If you are unable to work from home, you will be eligible for SSP and may also qualify for contractual sick pay whilst you are unwell.  Guidance suggests that employers should also allow self-isolating staff to take paid holiday instead of sick leave if they prefer, in order to receive full pay. 

When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before symptom onset. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, the person who has developed symptoms may wish to ask their employer to alert those co-workers. At this stage, those close contacts should not self-isolate, but they: 

  • must avoid individuals who are at high-risk of contracting COVID-19, for example, because they have pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory issues; and 
  • must take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms. 

If the person who has symptoms has a positive test result for COVID-19, the NHS Test & Trace service will ask them to share information about their close recent contacts. If they work in – or have recently visited or attended – one of the following settings, the contact tracing process will be escalated to local public health experts, who will liaise as necessary with the manager of the relevant setting: 

  • a health or care setting, for instance a hospital or care home 
  • a prison or other secure establishment 
  • a school for children with special needs 
  • any setting where there is a risk of a local outbreak 

In other cases, all other contacts who need to self-isolate will be contacted by the NHS Test & Trace service.   

You can self-certify for the first seven days off work.  After that, if your employer needs medical evidence, you can get an "isolation note" from the NHS website here

Air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak 

According to the HSE the risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace is extremely low. 

Employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace and this has not changed.  Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so focus on improving general ventilation, preferably through fresh air for example, by opening windows and doors (unless fire doors).  

Also consider if you can improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces. You can do this by using ceiling fans, desk fans or opening windows, for example.  

Most types of air conditioning system can continue to be used as normal and those with medical filtration systems such as those manufactured for clinical settings have been shown to actually improve air quality.. But centralised ventilation system that remove and recirculate air to different rooms should be avoided.  If possible, switch these to fresh air supply only.  

The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low. 

HSE plan inspections of Scottish Schools coronavirus measures 

We understand that the Health and Safety Executive plan to carry out sample spot checks on schools from 13 August.  They will be phoning 500 schools with a checklist of questions. HTs are being advised to expect such contact.  Local Authority employers have been advised. 

For those schools who “fail” or raise concerns from the answers given there will be follow-up inspections. Education unions have stressed the need for contact with safety reps if physically present in schools. 

If members have any concerns about the way any inspection is carried out they should raise that with their manager. In the event of any disagreement/dispute, the standard complaints process is to be used but complaints regarding Covid-19 should be given priority.   

“There is an online reporting form which can be accessed on the HSE website here.

A concern can also be raised by calling HSE on 0300 003 1647. Concerns can be raised anonymously using both methods but HSE normally ask permission to disclose that a concern has been raised, while maintaining the anonymity of the person raising the complaint.” 

NHS COVID -19 App 

Read more 

Key points for schools 

  • The App applies to people aged 16+, so pupils in years 11, 12 and 13 will be eligible to use it. 
  • If a pupil aged between 16 and 18 receives a notification during school hours that they have been in contact with a positive case, it will advise them to show the message to a trusted adult – usually a member of staff - and self-isolate. Schools should tell App users to inform a member of staff if they get such an alert.
  • Staff need to follow the school’s Covid procedures if a pupil using the App is notified whilst at school that they have been in close contact with a positive case. The school should then follow its Covid procedures as if that pupil had been present with another child in a class who had shown symptoms.
  • There is no need to change existing policies on the use of mobile phones by pupils due to the use of the App.
  • QR posters (Engalnd and Wales only) are optional and only need to be considered if schools host an event with external guests on their premises, such as a nativity. You can download a QR poster for England from here and for Wales from here.
  • Visit here for information on the Protect Scotland app and visit here for the StopCOVIDNI app.

Heating, ventilation and air Conditioning 

It’s getting cold and wet, do I still need the windows open? 

Schools should as a minimum ensure that adequate levels of ventilation and appropriate temperatures are maintained.  

In Scotland there must be regard for the School Premises Regulations which states that although minimum requirements vary depending across the school site, for classrooms the regulations stipulate 2 air changes per hour and a temperature of 17°C.  

Employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace and this has not changed.  Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.  This means that although windows should be open to allow ventilation, AND heating should be turned up to maintain a safe working temperature. 

Also consider if you can improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces. You can do this by using ceiling fans, desk fans or opening windows, for example.  

According to the HSE the risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace is extremely low. 

Most types of air conditioning system can continue to be used as normal and those with medical filtration systems such as those manufactured for clinical settings have been shown to actually improve air quality. But centralised ventilation system that remove and recirculate air to different rooms should be avoided.  If possible, switch these to fresh air supply only.  

The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low. 

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