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 schools “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, E.G. Office staff speaking with parents and visitors. 
 
Children and staff travelling to school on public transport MUST wear a face covering and should remove this upon entry to the school.    
 
Members should consider carefully the needs of children when making a decision on wearing a mask 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.  

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. 

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 born 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. 

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. 

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. 

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 for 14 days. (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. 

Return to FAQ page