Health and Safety FAQs

Health, Safety and Safeguarding FAQs regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19), including face coverings/masks. Last updated 21 January 2021.

Safe Schools 

Employers should ensure that the workplace is safe by meeting the COVID-secure standards – these can be found here

What is essential is that every employer undertakes robust and transparent risk-assessment of every different aspect of school life and the working day and share these with their employees to ensure that the workplace is as safe 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. 

  1. Develop and implement cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures. 

  1. Help people to work from home wherever possible. 

  1. Maintain 2 metre social distancing where possible.  

  1. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk by implementing additional measures.  

In addition to this, in education settings, bubbles should be implemented and closely adhered to. Staff should not move across multiple ‘bubbles’.   

Vulnerable and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable 

Who is Clinically Extremely Vulnerable?  

People who are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable are at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. There are 2 ways you may be identified as clinically extremely vulnerable:  

  1. You have one or more of the conditions listed, or  

  1. Your hospital clinician or GP has added you to the Shielded patients list because, based on their clinical judgement, they deem you to be at higher risk of serious illness if you catch the virus.   

The group list is updated regularly as patients’ conditions or the scientific evidence changes, so the majority will have received a letter previously from the NHS or their GP advising them of their inclusion.  

Please check here if you believe you may be clinically extremely vulnerable for the latest list of conditions.  

We have been told that letters will be going out to all those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, providing them with further detail on the updated guidance and on how to access the support available.  

Vulnerable staff in the workplace  

Guidance which clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are strongly urged to follow, published 7th January and covering the nationwide lockdown says that:  

  • Socialising: except for limited purposes, you must not leave or be outside of your home and garden. Clinically extremely vulnerable people to stay at home as much as possible. You can still go outside for exercise or to attend health appointments but try to keep all contact with others outside of your household to a minimum and avoid busy areas. You can still meet with your support bubble, but you cannot meet others you do not live with unless they are part of your support bubble.  
  • Work: if you cannot work from home, they should not attend work.  You may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme during this period of national measures.  
  • School: Doctors have been reviewing all children and young people who were initially identified as clinically extremely vulnerable to confirm whether they are still thought to be at highest risk. If you have already discussed this with your child’s doctors and they have confirmed your child is still considered clinically extremely vulnerable, your child should follow this shielding advice. 
  • Going outside: avoid all non-essential travel – you should continue to travel to hospital and GP appointments unless told otherwise by your doctor. You are strongly advised not to go to any shops or to pharmacies.  

Pregnancy 

https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/  

What is the main advice for pregnant women?  

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG),  

  • Pregnant women of any gestation are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health.  
  • For those women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill should you contract COVID-19 (this is true of any viral illness contracted, such as flu). 
  • Pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as a precaution.   

The government issued new guidance on 23 December 2020 for pregnant employees.  It states wherever possible you should work from home.  If you are unable to work from home, you can continue to go to work as long as an individual Covid-19 New and Expectant Mothers Risk Assessment, specific to your working environment, is carried out and appropriate adjustments are put in place to minimise your exposure to the virus.  

This risk assessment should consider how and where you can safely work, taking into account your workplace and your individual situation.   

Pregnant women should follow the latest government guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) and avoid anyone who has symptoms suggestive of coronavirus.   

Is the advice different in the later stages of pregnancy?  

Whilst there is no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus, the government guidance states a more precautionary measure should be taken for staff over 28 weeks pregnant.   

If you are in your third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) you should be particularly attentive to social distancing.  

Wherever possible pregnant employees should work from home.  And this may require working flexibly from home or in a different capacity.  If you are unable to work from home, you can continue to go to work as long as an individual Covid-19 New and Expectant Mothers Risk Assessment, specific to your working environment, is carried out and appropriate adjustments are put in place to minimise your exposure to the virus.   

Your employer must ensure you are able to adhere to any active national guidance on social distancing and/or advice for pregnant women considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable (this group may previously have been advised to shield).  

If you have concerns about your risk assessment and/or adjustments, you should speak to your manager/headteacher. Or contact Voice Community on 01332 372 337 for further advice. 

What if I am unable to get a MATB1 certificate?  

If you can’t get a certificate of expected confinement (MATB1) due to GP surgeries/clinics being too busy, you should complete a Notification of Maternity Leave form.  This will inform the employer of your expected date of confinement, until you are able to obtain a MATB1. 

Mental Health 

For so many reasons, we are living through a very difficult time. Voice Community cares deeply about your health and wellbeing and this includes your mental health. If you think you require any help and support, then please access help from one of the services below - they are all free to access.  

A discussion about guarding mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

Risk Assessments (Section 44/100)

Every school and education setting must carry out a risk assessment which they should make available to all staff. The assessment should consider the risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19), so that sensible measures can be put in place to control those risks for children and staff. This risk assessment should be revisited and updated whenever necessary (i.e. after a positive case of COVID-19 in the school or after a government update).  

Voice Community 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 because employers have a duty to consult employees on health and safety matters, 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 Community has produced a risk assessment checklist, which although not exhaustive, may help guide you on what you should be looking for. 

What if I don’t feel safe at work? 

We advise all staff to engage fully with risk assessments, and it is a good idea for you to have a personal risk assessment to address any particular concerns, conditions or requirements you may have.  This is especially important if you have been categorised as vulnerable or extremely vulnerable, you are pregnant, or you are from a BAME background.  

However, if, after having engaged with the risk assessment process, you still do not feel safe in your workplace, then please call us on 01332 372 337 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 Community on 01332 372 337 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: 
  • you bring health and safety risks to the attention of your employer; 
  • You are designated to take action to reduce risks; 
  • 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 
  • you took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect yourself and your colleagues from the danger. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 

Do I have to/Can I wear a face mask? 

The advice on face coverings and PPE is different in each of the four nations of the UK. 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 Community 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.  

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. 

Advice from SAGE in relation to the new Covid variant

Advice from SAGE relating to the new and highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 was published just prior to Christmas.  It is very clear in its recommendations that extra measures are likely to be required including: 

  • reconsidering the 2m rule and requiring that where regular interactions less than 2m are necessary this should include correctly worn face coverings; 
  • enhancing ventilation rates to account for possible higher viral loads; and  
  • reinforcing the importance of using face coverings, including in settings where they are not currently mandated, such as education, workplaces, and crowded outdoor spaces (medium confidence).” 

“Where it is essential for people to be less than 2m apart, it is important that mitigations consider both aerosol and droplet exposure, and it is strongly recommended that face coverings are mandated." 

Therefore, Voice Community recommends 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

Read Sage's advice  

England

In out-of-school settings, face coverings should be used where it is required by the indoor setting and where the teaching, training or activity is taking place in an area in which children aged 11 and over or staff are likely to come into contact with other members of the public - This is to comply with relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) sector guidance. 

In addition, face coverings should be worn by adults and children aged 11 and above when moving around the school, outside of classrooms or activity rooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.  

Scotland

Face coverings should be worn by adults at all times where they cannot keep two metres from other adults and/or children and young people in primary and secondary schools (with some exceptions in P1-2). Face coverings should also be worn by parents and other visitors to any school site (whether entering the building or otherwise), including parents at drop-off and pick-up. 

In local authority areas in Levels 3 and 4, pupils in the senior phase – S4-6 – and their teachers should wear face coverings in classrooms, as well as when they are moving around the school and in communal areas. 

Wales

Face coverings are recommended for all members of the public over 11 years in indoor settings in which social distancing cannot be maintained.  

Staff and learners in secondary schools and colleges will be expected to wear face coverings in all areas outside the classroom and on school transport.  Ministers issued the update to secondary schools (20 November 2020), to ensure consistency across Wales.  Most councils already require or strongly advise senior pupils and staff to wear masks in areas like corridors.  

The guidance, which the education minister said was "simple to follow", now states that face coverings should be worn: 

  • In all areas outside the classroom by staff and learners in secondary schools and colleges  
  • On dedicated school and college transport for learners in year 7 and up 
  • By visitors to all schools and colleges, including parents and carers dropping off and picking up children 

Schools will be expected to follow the updated guidance, and this also applies to most school transport for secondary age pupils, and in some cases primary pupils too. 

If my school recommends that face coverings are to be worn in communal areas, who will supply them?

The Minister for Education announced on 7 September that the Welsh Government has made more than £2.3 million available to provide face coverings to all pupils of secondary school age or in further education settings. Please contact your school or local authority for further information. 

Northern Ireland 

https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-school-and-educational-settings-northern-ireland  

In Primary schools, children are not recommended to use face coverings because of the measures schools have in place and the reduced rate of transmission to and from children of this age. 

Face coverings are strongly recommended to be worn where adults and young people in post-primary schools (including special schools and independent and grant aided schools) are moving about the school in corridors and confined communal areas (including toilets) where physical distancing is particularly difficult to maintain. 

Staff and pupils may choose to use face coverings during the school day.  This is their choice and must be allowed. No one should be excluded from school for failure to have or wear a face covering. 

Outside of classrooms, face coverings must be worn by adults where they cannot keep 2m distance and are interacting face-to-face with other adults and/or children and young people; and, by all adults visiting the school site. 

Face coverings are strongly recommended for activities that entail large numbers of staff or pupils within an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible. 

From 29 October 2020, it has been mandatory for all post-primary children in Northern Ireland to wear a face covering on all home to school transport services and on public transport.  

This includes on: 

  • Education Authority buses 
  • Translink dedicated school buses 
  • Private coaches and taxis used to travel to school 
  • Public trains, buses and ferries 

Only those children who have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one are not required to do so. 

COVID -19 App 

Use of the NHS App [England] in Education & Childcare Settings 

The app is for people aged 16 and over so it is not recommended for nursery or school-aged children.  And there is no need to change existing policies on the use of mobile phones by pupils due to the use of the app. 

If your mobile is stored in a staffroom, locker or drawer during the day and is not on your person, please ensure you turn off the ‘contact tracing’ function to prevent false alerts. 

If, during the day, a student receives a message from the app., it is essential that they inform a member of staff. To support this, the notification itself will advise them that if they are under the age of 18, they should show the message to a trusted adult and self-isolate. Staff and students should then follow the setting’s agreed process, including making appropriate arrangements for the student to leave the setting at the earliest opportunity to begin self-isolation. 

If you or any other member of staff receive notification from the app., you must also follow the usual process of informing an appropriate person at the setting.  You should then self-isolate.  

Your workplace will consider what action they may need to take if a number of staff members were informed at the same time that they had been in close contact with a positive case, to ensure continuity of education or childcare.  

ENGLAND & WALES NHS Covid-19 – App  

https://www.nhs.uk/apps-library/nhs-covid-19/  

PROTECT SCOTLAND – App 

https://protect.scot/ 

StopCOVID NI – App 

https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/testing-and-tracing-covid-19/stopcovid-ni-contact-tracing-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, 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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