HSENI has received approximately a 900% increase in complaints and a very high volume of requests for information and advice. This is an unprecedented volume of calls, the majority of which have been about ‘COVID-19’ and ‘social distancing’ in the workplace. We are aware our colleagues in the local councils have been receiving requests for assistance as well. Our staff are dedicated and are working tirelessly to deal with each and every call we receive to achieve the outcome which best protects workers health and safety.
Given the large volume of calls we are dealing with our approach is to advise and work with companies to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines. Our inspectorate staff are contacting businesses in response to raised concerns to ensure that measures are put in place to maintain social distancing and minimise the risks associated with COVID-19. Given the range of work sectors HSENI deals with the implementation of these measures can be complex. This approach is allowing us to prioritise resources, rapidly raise concerns and point to appropriate measures which need to be taken. Inspectors are requiring employers to provide evidence of the measures being taken.
We are seeing great efforts from companies to introduce the necessary measures and the vast majority are complying with our requests. We have examples where production lines have been extended, break times staggered, canteen tables restricted to one per person, increased cleaning and physical measures such as perspex panels to minimise contact have been introduced. We are seeing voluntary temporary closures being introduced in sectors such as construction. These are the sort of changes we are working with industry to introduce. Our work with industry will save lives. Support in key messaging from industry, trade bodies and trade unions has all helped ensure the protection of workers in line with UKG and PHA guidelines.
Despite this we are aware that not all businesses are in compliance. Where this is the case we ask that employees bring these to our attention by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There have been some mentions in the press suggesting that HSENI has the power to close businesses. HSENI does not have the power to close down a business. Where an employer is not complying with the required standards etc. HSENI can stop parts of processes but could not enforce a total shutdown of an entire factory or business premises.
In our efforts to help organisations we have been clear that measures to maintain social distancing must not only be put in place but must be adhered to by staff and strictly monitored by management. The success of any social distancing regime will depend on high levels of collaboration between staff and management.
HSENI’s approach to this unprecedented situation has the support of Economy Minister, Manufacturing NI and UNITE. Companies who are still working must operate in compliance with the UKGov and PHA guidelines. We will continue to provide help and assistance to companies to ensure this is the case.
Key guidance provided to businesses includes:
• encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible;
• have systems in place to ensure that if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home;
• employees should be reminded to wash their hands regularly throughout the day for at least 20 seconds on each occasion, and to sneeze into tissues and dispose of the tissues promptly – Catch it, Bin it, Kill it. (suitable washing facilities with soap and warm water or hand sanitisers must be provided);
• frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products.
Companies should also take account of measures in the risk assessment, to follow general advice regarding distancing and ensure that it is observed between employees both at their workstations and in other areas of their premises.
Where this cannot be achieved within the normal working environment additional means of protection should be considered.
- reduce number of workers on site at any one time;
- relocating workers to other tasks;
- redesigning processes to allow social distancing in place;
- put in place temporary barriers between staff;
- utilise technology such as teleconferencing instead of face to face meetings;
- adjust workflow or production line speeds.
We are aware that employers are currently experiencing significant issues obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE).
Public Health guidance on the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) relates to health care settings. In all other settings individuals are asked to observe social distancing measures and practise good hand hygiene behaviours. More information on the following link:
On HSENI’s website there is COVID19 information including an example risk assessment (https://www.hseni.gov.uk/).