COVID 19 - WSS Update Read More

Protecting Vulnerable Workers During Coronavirus

Protecting Vulnerable Workers During Coronavirus

Employers have a legal duty to protect workers from harm. The risks to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) should be considered and controls put into place to reduce that risk.

Supporting workers in the higher-risk groups

In Public Health England's (PHE) report 'Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID19' it shows that some groups of people may be at more risk of being infected and/or an adverse outcome if infected.

The higher-risk groups include those who:

  • are older males
  • have a high body mass index (BMI)
  • have health conditions such as diabetes
  • are from some Black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds

PHE, supported by the Health and Safety Executive and the Faculty of Medicine, have worked together to consider strategies to lessen workplace risks of COVID-19 for BAME groups.

There are currently no expectations of additional controls specifically for these groups however, existing COVID-19 controls (social distancing, good hygiene and cleaning, ventilation, supervision etc) should be strictly implemented. Employers should support these individuals/groups by ensuring:

  • emphasising the importance of individual and wider workforce engagement, buy-in and cooperation to ensure controls are applied stringently
  • they have individual discussions with their managers around their particular concerns
  • the risk management measures that are in place to minimise transmission to keep them, and others, safe are discussed
  • the controls already in place are explained to protect them and other workers

Supporting workers in the higher-risk groups
Employers should ensure all workers, including those in higher-risk groups, are able to access all the protections that are necessary, e.g. during night shifts, when working remotely or working alone. This might include access to personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks or cleaning materials.

Clinically extremely vulnerable workers
During the pandemic, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (previously described as shielded).

These workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. From 5th November 2020, in England, clinically extremely vulnerable workers should stay at home as much as possible and work from home, if they can.

Supporting clinically extremely vulnerable workers returning to work
Employers should talk to clinically extremely vulnerable workers about their working arrangements and, where possible, enable them to work from home. Employers may also be able to offer alternative duties or change working patterns temporarily.

Where it is not possible for workers to work from home, employers must regularly review their risk assessment, and do everything 'reasonably practicable' to protect those workers from harm.

It is important to explain what will be done to protect them, in making the workplace safe and COVID-secure.

By consulting and involving clinically extremely vulnerable people in the steps employers are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in the workplace, they can hear their ideas and make sure changes will work, for example doing tasks where strict social distancing guidelines can be followed.

This also applies to workers living with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

Pregnant workers
During the pandemic, pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

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 are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and, during the greater restrictions from 5th November in England, they should stay at home as much as possible and work from home if they can.

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 normal requirements under regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.