A list of the most common health and safety related questions during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Workplace Safety Guidance and Priority Sector List

The MInister for DfE published safety guidance for workplaces giving practical advice and steps to be considered during the Covid-19 crisis. It includes advice on Public Health Guidelines, Safer Work Practices and Mental Health and Well-being. A list of Priority Sectors was also published to clarify what constitutes a priority sector at this time, and to support Northern Ireland companies to continue their business operations and protect the incomes of their workforces. Both documents are available to download at the link below:

First Aid: Advice for people holding first aid at work certificates


HSENI is aware that people holding first aid at work certificates nearing expiry date, might experience disruption to access to requalification training as a result of events or circumstances generated by the coronavirus pandemic.

If requalification training is prevented for reasons associated directly with coronavirus or by complying with related government advice, HSENI would consider it reasonable and practical to extend the validity of current certificates by up to 3 months.  Staff should make use of available resources (written or online) to refresh their knowledge where possible.

Anyone taking advantage of this extension should be able to describe clearly their reasons for delaying requalification training, and demonstrate steps they have taken to undertake the training, if required. This guidance comes into effect for licenses expiring on or after 16th March 2020.  HSENI will review this matter over the coming months and will issue further statements as necessary.

Following a further review, it is anticipated that there will be opportunity for first aid requalification training to be undertaken, with HSENI setting as a final deadline for this qualification to be obtained by 30 September 2020.

Training

HSENI recognise that business may have employees whose requalification training (e.g. fork lift truck drivers) has recently / will soon expire and there may be no facility to renew this at present. Where this is the case the business must continue to ensure that the person remains competent to do that work. Again, staff should make use of available resources (in house, written or online) to refresh their knowledge where possible. Businesses should be able to describe clearly their reasons for delaying requalification training, and demonstrate steps they have taken to undertake the training by other means, if required.

Statutory Inspections (Lifting Equipment, Pressure Systems etc.)

HSENI are aware of the difficulties that industry may experience regarding meeting their legal obligations concerning the statutory inspection of items such as lifting equipment and pressure systems.

At the time of writing many insurance inspection bodies are continuing to operate in consultation with their clients.  However, if statutory inspections are not able to be completed due to the current situation, businesses must make every effort to ensure that plant maintenance is continued and internal inspection processes are carried out as normal.

Under certain circumstances with the agreement of a suitable competent person, some legislation does allow thorough examinations/statutory inspections to be postponed to a later date. Where possible they should take advice from their competent person / insurance inspection provider relating to the specific item, based on risk, use, previous inspections etc. They should also identify any additional actions they should take related to the equipment being used to control risk. The purpose of this is to enable the user/owner and the competent person to satisfy themselves that the safety of the system will not be prejudiced if the interval between examinations is extended.

Even if such options are taken, it still remains the duty-holders responsibility to ensure that the equipment is safe to use. If there are concerns regarding the safety of any item of plant or lifting equipment then the equipment must be taken out of service immediately.

If engineering companies carrying out inspections are suffering shortages in their own resources, they should consider focusing this resource/expertise on equipment in premises where the most vulnerable are located such as hospitals, care homes and infrastructure which is essential to the running of the country.

Safety Critical Functions

In this time of uncertainty, where workers with responsibility for safety critical tasks and checks may be absent from work, at short notice for long periods due to coronavirus, it is vital that employers have the necessary measures and resources in place to ensure the continuity of safe systems.

Employers should identify key workers who carry out critical activities and plan for what should happen if they fall ill.  This would include training additional members of staff and developing safe operating procedures others can follow.

Time requirements of reporting on injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences

Business must continue to report fatal and major injury incidents as soon as is practicable to HSENI, In this period we ask that you restrict telephone notifications to fatalities and Major Injuries only and use the online reporting forms for all other reporting which can be found at:

Unless there is a direct link between an employee’s work and contracting COVID19 (for example healthcare workers working with infected patients or lab workers working with the virus) there is no statutory requirement to report such cases to HSENI.

Training in relation staff redeployment and temporary cover

Employers must take steps to ensure that staff who are redeployed to other work due to absences etc. are provided with the necessary information and training to prevent them being injured or made unwell through their new role.

Protecting staff from COVID-19 and risk assessment

Exposure to COVID-19 may present a health risk to workers and other persons at a workplace. Employers should continue to ensure that an appropriate assessment of the risk from COVID-19 in their workplace is carried out and appropriate measures put in place in line with current Public Health Agency guidelines.

These measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work. Control measures will depend on the level of risk and type of workplace and should not reduce the level of protection afforded by existing measures (for example keeping fire doors open to reduce the risk from contaminated door handles creates increased risk. Appropriate regular cleaning and advice on hand hygiene is appropriate)

Where there is a requirement to carry out work at other locations outside of the employer’s workplace, employees should comply with site rules and take into account the wider PHA advice regarding good hygiene practices and separation distances.  Consideration should also be given to any other persons who may be affected by their work. 

Critically, employers should take into account the most up to date official advice and guidance from the Public Health Agency on how to mitigate the health risk to employees and others at the place of work. Employers are advised to keep up to date on COVID-19 by referring to the Public Health Agency website

Respiratory Protective Equipment – Further sources of information

Current PHE guidance in respect of the use of ‘facemasks’ is contained within the following:

Health and Safety Executive

The research conducted by HSE and PHE includes information on the equivalence of N95 and FFP2 masks. Findings suggest there is no material difference between the N95 respirator and the FFP2 disposable respirator. They provide comparable protection against coronavirus as long as the wearer has passed a face fit test.

The selection of appropriate PPE should be determined by local risk assessment and reference to PHE guidance:

Department of Health and Social Care

Includes guidance on who needs PPE and when, and who does not, based on UK clinical expertise and WHO standards.

Public Health England (PHE)

NHS

Sector Specific Issues

Please see below for advice, guidance and information during Covid-19 for specific work sectors.

Carriage of Dangerous Goods

In light of the current circumstances due to Covid-19, the UK has countersigned a multilateral agreement with other ADR Contracting Parties, extending the validity of all existing ADR Driver Training and Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser (DGSA) certificates due to expire between 1 March 2020 and 1 November 2020, until 30 November 2020:

The UK has also countersigned a multilateral agreement on extending the periodic inspection and test expiry date for pressure receptacles and closed cryogenic receptacles carrying certain class 2 gases:

Copies of all ADR multilateral agreements and further information may be found online via the UN website:

The DVA will be providing Authorisations that will permit the continued use of some ADR vehicles, where the ADR technical certificate has expired. 

A separated Authorisation will also be provided that will permit the use of certain new type approved ADR vehicles for a maximum period of 1 year.

A link to the Authorisations can be found on the NI Direct website:

Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH)

Advice for Operators and Establishments

The Joint Competent Authority (CA) for COMAH, comprising of the NIEA and HSENI, understands the potential impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, on establishments / operators that have responsibilities under the COMAH Regulations.

The primary duty of the COMAH Regulations, is that every operator must take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and mitigate the effects of those that do occur to people and the environment. Despite the demanding circumstances created by the current coronavirus crisis, this overriding requirement remains.

COMAH operators must continue to ensure adequate standards of major accident hazard (MAH) prevention, control and mitigation are maintained at COMAH establishments.

There is generally no capacity within COMAH to issue exemptions to duties (Regulation 15 being the exception). So, failure to comply with requirements must be considered a breach. However, there is flexibility within our enforcement framework to ensure that regulatory decisions made by the CA are pragmatic and this will be used where appropriate.

Any establishment / operator that have concerns regarding meeting agreed deadlines associated with the COMAH Regulations, should contact the CA.

Staffing and fatigue at major hazard establishments

New guidance has been produced by HSE on how to manage major hazard establishments subject to the COMAH Regulations during the coronavirus outbreak.

The guidance is particularly important for establishments that are part of the critical national infrastructure.

It covers the potential overall increase in risk to COMAH establishments during the coronavirus outbreak from:

  • reduced staffing or loss of key staff
  • increased staff fatigue

Operators should assess the risks to:

  • ensure continued safe running of establishments
  • determine worst-case scenarios when some or all operations may need to stop

This new guidance is for short-term variations to the assessment and management of fatigue and staffing. It is for operators to use during the coronavirus outbreak only. It gives them basic guidance to help make quick risk assessments for peak short-term demand.

Emergency Planning for COMAH establishments

Emergency resources normally involved in the preparation and testing of external emergency plans are likely to be diverted elsewhere during this period and this may impact the current schedule for the testing of external emergency plans. The CA will work with the respective organisations, if postponement of an external emergency plan test is required.

Inspections of COMAH establishments

The CA will continue to regulate major hazard industries throughout this time undertaking much of the regulatory functions remotely, focussing on critical areas and activities to ensure that hazards are being effectively managed in compliance with the law.

Land Use Planning

HSENI and NIEA will still provide consultation advice on relevant planning applications as normal. There may be a delay in generating Land Use Planning (LUP) assessments with regards to Hazardous Substance Consent applications due to restrictions associated with site visits. 

Other CA functions

Assessment of safety reports, MAPPs and general enquiries relating to COMAH will continues as normal as far as possible.

Chemicals

Arrangements regulation of chemicals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

HSE (GB) is continuing to provide services for regulating chemicals during the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been some administrative changes for each chemical regimes.

Please follow the appropriate link below for more information on the regime(s):

There is further information about applying to all regimes, which you can view here.

Gas Safety

Advice for Landlords

Landlords have a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances in a safe condition, to ensure an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue, and to keep a record of each safety check. 

Concerns have been raised where landlords, in light of COVID-19 implications, may have difficulties in complying with the requirement to have a 12 month gas safety check completed.

HSENI acknowledges the unprecedented challenges we are all facing during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Current government guidance concurs that work can still be carried out in people’s homes where necessary, e.g. for reasons of safety, provided that the guidance on social distancing is followed.  See ‘Advice for Gas Engineers’ for guidance for engineers and their employers regarding working in peoples’ homes.

Tenants should be contacted before gas safety checks are carried out both verbally and in writing to ascertain if access can be obtained to carry out the gas safety check and confirm whether or not the tenant is in self-isolation.

Where tenants are not in self-isolation

Under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations (NI) 2004, Regulation 39, a landlord may not be in breach of Regulation 36(3) if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to comply with the law. HSENI recommends the following best practice in these circumstances and strongly advises that a record be kept of all correspondence with the tenants:

  • leave the tenant a notice stating that an attempt was made to complete the gas safety check and provide your contact details;
  • write to the tenant explaining that a safety check is a legal requirement and that it is for the tenant’s own safety. Give the tenant the opportunity to arrange their own appointment;
  • HSENI inspectors will look for at least three attempts to complete the gas safety check, including the above suggestions; however the approach will need to be appropriate to each circumstance. It would ultimately be for a court to decide if the action taken was reasonable depending upon the individual circumstances.
  • It is a good idea to include arrangements for access in the tenancy agreement.

HSENI is prepared to recognise on a temporary basis, annual gas safety checks that are carried out any time from 10 to 12 calendar months after the previous check and still retain the original deadline date as if the check had been carried out exactly 12 months after the previous check.

This means that if a landlord anticipates difficulties in gaining access as the COVID-19 situation progresses, they have the flexibility to carry out annual gas safety checks two months before the deadline date. Landlords are encouraged to arrange their annual gas safety checks as early as possible, as a contingency against tenants being in self-isolation in the future, or gas engineers being unavailable due to illness. The two-month period to carry out annual gas safety checks should provide adequate resilience in most situations.

Where tenants are in self-isolation

In the event you are unable to gain access to the property, e.g. refusal of access due to tenants self-isolating (e.g. where someone is self-isolating for 14 days or where there are over 70’s and vulnerable groups being advised to self -isolate for up to 12 weeks), or if you are unable to engage a registered gas engineer to carry out the work due to a shortage of available engineers, you will be expected to be able to demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to comply with the law. This will need to include records of communication with the tenant and details of your engineer’s attempt to gain access. The gas safety check in these cases must be carried out as soon as reasonably practicable following the isolation period and HSENI will expect landlords to demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps in such circumstances.

No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency repairs, and where the gas engineer is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health Agency can provide advice.

No work should be carried out by a gas engineer who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

As a back-up measure, an audible carbon monoxide alarm should be considered. Carbon monoxide alarms are a mandatory requirement for all new homes built in Northern Ireland after a change to The Building Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 came into operation on 31 October 2012. Whilst carbon monoxide alarms can help alert people to the dangers if Carbon Monoxide gas escapes, they must never be regarded as a substitute for the proper installation, maintenance, servicing of gas appliances.

In any case, if someone smells gas contact the free 24-hour National Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 002 001.

 

Advice for Gas Engineers

Registered gas engineers and businesses are playing an important part in keeping the country gas safe, and ensuring homes have heating & hot water, during these challenging times.

In light of COVID-19, HSENI have received confirmation that downstream Gas Engineers are listed as ‘Key Workers’.

No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency repairs, and where the gas engineer is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health Agency can provide advice.

No work should be carried out by a gas engineer who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

Gas Engineers working in people’s homes should follow the latest advice on

There is also further information on the Gas Safe Register website for both landlords and gas engineers (which includes information for gas engineers whose ACS certification is due to expire soon) and provides advice on how to work in a way to reduce to spread of the COVID-19 virus. Please see the link below.

 

Please be aware as this is an ever changing situation, information may be updated and amended on a regular basis.

Quarries and geotechnical assessments

If a quarry’s geotechnical assessment is due to be renewed, then measures must continue to ensure that all excavations and tips are operated and maintained to ensure that instability or movement, which is likely to give rise to a risk to the health and safety of any person, is avoided until such time as the assessment can be completed. Where possible they should take advice from their geotechnical engineer.

Food Manufacturers – change of processes

HSENI have been contacted by a number of beverage manufactures across the province enquiring about changing their production process in order to begin to manufacture hand sanitiser.

Any Company endeavouring to do this must contact the Health and Safety Executive in GB directly via e-mail to biocides@hse.gov.uk . HSE GB are the competent authority in this area as some of the ingredients in hand sanitiser are classed as biocides. HSE GB are dealing with all queries in relation to this at present.

Increased risk associated with the operation of Wet Cooling Plant and Coronavirus outbreak

HSENI would like to remind dutyholders about the risk from legionella bacteria associated with the operation of wet cooling plant and the need to ensure the measures identified in the risk assessment and written scheme of control are being followed closely to ensure systems operate safely and are being adequately maintained at all times.

Legionnaires Disease can affect anyone and is of particular danger to the frail and elderly and those people who may have reduced or suppressed immune systems. It requires hospitalisation for treatment and can be fatal. In the current coronavirus crisis it is imperative that our health service is not put under any additional strain. Please ensure your wet cooling plant is maintained and operated safely at all times.

In this time of uncertainty where workers with responsibility for safety critical tasks and checks may be absent from work at short notice for long periods due to coronavirus it is vital that employers have the necessary measures and resources in place to ensure the continuity of safe systems. This will include adequately trained deputies and engineers to carry out checks and sampling as well as ensuring chemical supplies are maintained and dosed appropriately. Drift eliminators and fill packs must be in place and operating effectively.

Where these requirements cannot be guaranteed operators should liaise with their water treatment companies for assistance and if necessary cease operation of any plant that presents a higher than manageable risk. Where plant has been closed down all the necessary steps should be taken in keeping with HSG L8 and HSG 174 part 2 to ensure it is properly cleaned and prepared before restarting.

Driver Welfare

Concerns have been raised about drivers not being able to use welfare facilities (toilets and hand washing facilities) when they are visiting customer sites and delivering / collecting goods. In the midst of the current Covid-19 situation, it is particularly important that drivers have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work. The welfare of all workers is a priority and that includes drivers. 

HSENI recognises that the majority of duty holders do already provide reasonable access to welfare facilities (toilets and hand washing facilities).

Diving

If you have a 12 months certificate of medical fitness to dive that expires on or after 16 March 2020, and you cannot get a medical re-examination with an approved medical examiner of divers (AMED) because of coronavirus, your certificate may be accepted until 1 June 2020. 

To qualify for the extension, you must be able to explain why you haven’t been able to take a medical examination and demonstrate what steps you’ve taken to try to get one. You’ll need to confirm that you’ve not been diagnosed with or suffered any illness or injury that could impact on your medical fitness to dive. 

Any diver who does not hold a current certificate of medical fitness to dive issued by an AMED on or before 16 March 2020 must undertake a full examination.

Ionising Radiation

During the current situation, employers must continue to make every effort to ensure that necessary actions are carried out to comply with Ionising Radiations Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017.  HSENI is aware that radiation practices may experience some difficulties meeting aspects of their legal obligations under IRR(NI)17.

Monitoring Instruments

Some delay in relation to examination and testing of monitoring equipment may be experienced dependent upon the availability of testing laboratories. Typical routine maintenance in relation to instrumentation is outlined within paragraph 413 of L121 Approved Code of Practice and guidance, some of which may be completed by the user. Advice should be taken from the Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA).

Dosimetry

Where passive dosimetry is provided, employees should continue to wear existing dosimeters if replacement badges have not been issued as per normal arrangements. Where there is a significant risk of accidental exposure during work practices, advice should be sought from the RPA to identify a robust personal monitoring procedure.

Leak testing of radioactive sources

Should there be delay in leak testing of radioactive sources, advice must be sought from the RPA on whether the source should be temporarily removed from use or if suitable interim leak tests to check for gross contamination/leakage can be carried out.  Leak testing should be risk assessed and suitable information, instruction and training provided.

If there are any concerns regarding the safety of any item of equipment then the equipment must be taken out of service immediately and practices must consult with their RPA to determine whether or not work activities can proceed.

Employers should also satisfy themselves that all sources continue to remain secure at all times.

Medical surveillance of classified persons

For routine medical surveillance of classified persons, the appointed doctor can conduct a paper review. For high risk radiation workers such as industrial radiographers, or those classified persons at the end of the five-year cycle where a face to face review is planned, they can carry out a telephone consultation and review the dose records and sickness absence records.  If there are no problems, a follow up face to face review can be scheduled three months later. Where there is a problem, a judgement can then be made on whether to see the worker face to face and, if so, how to do so safely.

Health/medical surveillance: Guidance for occupational health providers, appointed doctors and employers

For information on Health/medical surveillance: Guidance for occupational health providers, appointed doctors and employers see the following: