How responsible is your team for H&S in the workplace?

Tuesday December 29, 2020

By now you’ve probably read about Tom Cruise losing his temper on the set of Mission Impossible 7. In a recording leaked to The Sun, the actor can be heard berating his crew for failing to follow COVID-19 safety rules. During the rant, Cruise mentions the pressure he feels to keep people safe and the number of jobs that are riding on the production.

Whether or not you think that Cruise overreacted, you can probably relate to his exasperation. As an employer during the pandemic, you have a responsibility to keep your staff safe. You will also be well aware of the knock-on effect on people’s livelihoods if you are forced to close. This makes it all the more frustrating when employees don’t do their part.

So just how far can you go to make sure your staff are following health and safety guidelines?

What does the law say?

As an employer, your principal responsibilities are set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The law requires you to inform colleagues of any health and safety risks and explain how these can be avoided. You must also provide adequate training and equipment to mitigate these risks.

However, the burden of responsibility does not fall entirely on your shoulders. The law requires your employees to hold up their end of the bargain in three main ways:

  • Employees must take a reasonable degree of responsibility for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others.
  • Employees must cooperate on health and safety, and must not do anything to jeopardise your efforts.
  • Employees must follow the training they have been given when using work equipment.

All three of these points are relevant to the COVID-19 situation. Failing to follow rules around social distancing or hand washing means failing to take responsibility for your own safety. Ignoring these rules puts everyone at risk, so this would also constitute a failure to protect others. Your employees will have received extensive COVID-19 safety guidance, so those behaving irresponsibly are also ignoring their training. It is likely to be best dealt with by following your disciplinary policy.

What about vaccines?

As the UK begins to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, you may be wondering what happens if your staff refuse to be vaccinated. This could cause particular problems in public-facing businesses and care roles. Could customers refuse to be served by unvaccinated staff? Colleagues may also be uncomfortable working alongside those who haven’t been vaccinated.

Whether or not you can insist on your staff being vaccinated is open to interpretation. Obviously you can’t physically force them. However, is disciplinary action an option? We are starting to get into HR territory here with issues such as unfair dismissal and potentially discrimination coming into play.

It would be better to look at how risk assessments can introduce solutions that are not dependent on vaccines or how alternative roles and work patterns can be found for employees not comfortable with vaccination.

As vaccines are rolled out, more health and safety questions are likely to arise. Feel free to give us a call if you need some guidance, or if you are having trouble implementing your COVID-secure policies throughout your workforce.

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