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The Government has recently announced the removal of Plan B COVID-19 measures which means that:

  • With effect from 19 January 2022, the Government’s message to work from home if you can no longer applies;
  • With effect from 20 January 2022, pupils and teachers are no longer required to wear face coverings in the classroom;
  • From 27 January 2022, face coverings will no longer be mandatory (including in communal areas of schools) and individuals will no longer be required by law to provide an NHS COVID Pass to enter certain venues (although venues may themselves decide to make this a requirement for entry).

Whilst the Government are easing legal restrictions, their advice remains to be cautious and to remember that COVID-19 remains at a high level in society and a threat to public health. Although no longer compulsory, the Government’s advice remains, for example, to continue to wear a face covering in crowded and indoor spaces where individuals meet with others they would not normally meet.

In a similar vein, the easing of restrictions does not mean that employers should revert to pre-pandemic ways of operating.

Employers still have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of their employees. Whilst COVID-19 remains prevalent in society, the associated risks should continue to be factored into health and safety considerations.

Indeed, the Government’s guidance on working safely during COVID-19 (which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-covid-19) confirms that employers should continue to assess the risk associated with COVID-19 both generally and specifically as part of any decisions to ask staff to return to the workplace where they have otherwise been working from home. These assessments should be recorded by way of a risk assessment, whether that be a separate COVID-19 risk assessment or the relevant risks be incorporated into the employer’s standard health and safety risk assessment.

Where employers deem there is a risk associated with COVID-19, appropriate prevention measures should be implemented.

These measures might include (but will not be limited to):

  • ensuring there is adequate ventilation;
  • providing hand washing facilities or anti-bacterial gel; and
  • reducing contact for staff by, for instance, introducing designated seating in offices or using one way systems and ensuring there is frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that individuals frequently touch.

Updated guidance on safe ways of working in light of the removal of Plan B restrictions is due to be published shortly, and whilst the Government hope to remove any remaining restrictions so that life can return to normal in March 2022, the current guidance remains to be cautious and for employers to take steps to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.

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