A final decision announced on 12 July means that businesses potentially won’t have long to wait before legal restrictions designed to protect against the spread of Covid are lifted. But assuming that the measures may no longer be legal requirements, with some perhaps downgraded to mere guidance and some completely abandoned on 19 July, what (if any) precautions should businesses keep in place, even if they are not expressly required to do so?
Deaths and hospitalisation numbers do not appear to be rising as markedly as they had done at other stages in the pandemic. But the mere risk of an outbreak in business premises and possible loss of staff numbers to self-isolation might be enough to stop many companies from removing those measures they introduced last year and, although onerous, have actually been achievable even if, for many, the effects have been substantial. The test is one of reasonable practicability. The pub industry might not be able to operate viably without completely dispensing with social distancing and table service requirements, whereas manufacturing and some transport or retail operations may struggle to justify why they are now removing any of the Covid-secure measures they put in place and which have now become established within the context of other business challenges. At a very localised level it may be difficult or unnecessary to remove all hand sanitising machines or stop taking visitors’ temperatures at the door, while staff who have used masks for a year may benefit from keeping them on while working under a company’s own internal rules.
All members on a committee of one manufacturers’ association have decided to keep every single Covid security measure in place even after the sector no longer needs to. Many guidance documents issued at the outset of the pandemic by various industry bodies and associations have not been updated recently so their content is still applicable, but the onus is very much on the individual employer.
Any review of existing measures will need to look again at the effect on the business, the likely reduction in risk levels, any changes in structure, headcount or different activities in the business, and then factor the existing or relaxed policies into other existing risk assessments to see how the more routine activities of the business might be affected by the changing Covid measures.
Statistically the significant numbers of vaccinated employees since the measures were adopted can be taken into account, but more indirect illnesses such as ‘long Covid’ or non-fatal consequences can also be factored in when assessing levels of risk. Do not forget the reasonable practicability test and if there is a measure that would eliminate a risk altogether (for example, ceasing an activity that might generate risk) the bar is a high one and you need to ask why that step should not be taken even if it may require at least some element of cost, time and inconvenience to the business.
For any business which decides to do away with measures it has been implementing without undue effect to it, it would be prudent to think long and hard before downgrading systems and have a clear document trail to explain the thought process. Seek a second opinion from consultants and/or lawyers in order to follow the correct legal test involved in devising solutions.
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