Top ten health and safety tips for charities returning to work

Top ten health and safety tips for charities returning to work

Charity trustees and senior managers will benefit from refreshing their understanding of their health and safety duties in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this article, we detail what you need to know about these complex regulations and share some of the practical questions that third sector leaders should consider as workplaces begin to reopen.

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees at work ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’ according to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The regulations apply equally to volunteers and staff. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum an employer must do is:

  1. identify what could cause injury or illness in your organisation (hazards)
  2. decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  3. take action to eliminate the hazard – if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Charity trustees should be aware of their duties under the Reporting of Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued guidance relating to the reporting of Covid-19 under RIDDOR. It states that a report should only be made when one of the following circumstances applies:

  • An accident or incident at work has, or could have, led to the release or escape of coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence;
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 as a result of an occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a case of disease; and
  • A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a work-related death due.

There is no requirement under RIDDOR to report incidents of disease or deaths of care home residents, members of the public, patients or service users from Covid-19. The reporting requirements apply only to occupational exposure to Covid-19.

Ten useful steps to minimise the risk of prosecution:

  1. Ensuring health and safety guidelines are in place and strictly adhered to;
  2. Compliance with the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Both organisations and even a particular individual may face prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 as a result of the same incident if there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest;
  3. Follow government guidance relating to Covid-19 and working safely;
  4. Leadership on health and safety from the top of the organisation, and potentially appointment of a lead trustee to have responsibility for this area of the organisation’s activities;
  5. A lessons learnt culture that communicates information about mistakes without adverse or serious consequences;
  6. Ensure all employees, volunteers and contractors are aware of the safety measures and the guidelines that are in place;
  7. Ongoing review of health and safety policies to ensure continuous improvement;
  8. Provide health and safety training and make it mandatory where sensible;
  9. Ensure comprehensive records are kept regarding health and safety meetings and decisions by the board; and
  10. Arrange meetings with health and safety experts to confirm that the organisation is ensuring employees are safe, and that safety in the work environment is given high priority.

Practical questions for consideration by charity trustees when staff and volunteers are returning to the business premises following easing of Covid restrictions include:

  • Who is needed on site?
  • What is the minimum number of staff required on site to ensure that operations are safe?
  • What on-site equipment requires a maintenance check before staff arrive (heating, air conditioning units etc.)?
  • What mechanisms should be in place to monitor the health and wellbeing of all staff, both on site and working remotely?
  • What equipment is required to enable staff to perform their duties safely?
  • Which individuals must be shielded due to underlying health conditions?

The significance of all of these factors will become clear if the health and safety executive decided to take enforcement action.

Several well known charities have been fined sums ranging from £5,000 upwards in the last 10 years for health and safety breaches that resulted in serious injury and for failing to ensure that staff were not placed at risk.

The health and safety offences sentencing guidelines in England and Wales are now being used by the courts in Scotland to establish fines based on business turnover. The impact of such a large fine for a health and safety offence on some charities could be catastrophic and could potentially have serious reputational implications for both the charity concerned as well as the wider charities sector.  The cost of non-compliance has never been so high.

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