The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business sectors has been rapid, unrelenting, and in some sectors – totally devastating. Businesses have had to adapt quickly to the changing nature of public health guidance and COVID-19 restrictions whilst pivoting between being fully operational onsite, remote working offsite, limited by tier level restrictions, or closed due to full lockdown.
To assist businesses, HM Government published the ‘Support for businesses and self employed people during coronavirus’ guidance, including details of the various financial support schemes available to relevant businesses.
In May 2020 the government published ‘Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)’, a series of 14 regularly updated guides for a variety of business sectors. The guide most pertinent to the professional services sector of the Colmore Business District , and particularly those with front of house/welcome staff and security officers, is the generic offices and contact centre guidance.
What is the best way to protect staff and visitors within an office, contact centre or other similar indoor environment?
The below guidance is particularly relevant to buildings with staffed entrances and reception areas where there is an increased public health risk from having contact with contractors, visitors, and possibly members of the general public.
The guidance identifies 8 organisational priority actions:
- Complete a COVID-19 risk assessment. Share it with all your staff. Find out how to do a risk assessment.
- Clean more often. Increase how often you clean surfaces, especially those that are being touched a lot. Ask your staff and your visitors to use hand sanitiser and wash their hands frequently.
- Remind your visitors to wear face coveringswhere required to do so by law. That is especially important if your visitors are likely to be indoors and around people they do not normally meet. Some exemptions apply. Check when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own.
- Make sure everyone is social distancing. Make it easy for everyone to do so by putting up signs or introducing a one-way system that your staff and visitors can follow.
- Consider ventilation. Read advice on air conditioning and ventilation from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
- Take part in NHS Test and Traceby keeping a record of all staff and contractors for 21 days. Check ‘Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace’ for details.
- Turn people with coronavirus symptoms away. If a staff member (or someone in their household) or a visitor has a persistent cough, a high temperature or has lost their sense of taste or smell, they should be isolating. Employers must not require someone who is being required to self-isolate to come to work. Any employer asking an employee to break self-isolation to work is committing an offence.
- Consider the mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19for yourself and others. The government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The CPNI (Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure) has published some helpful workplace COVID-19 guidance and additional downloadable information posters, which can be accessed here.
Who is classified as a COVID-19 critical worker?
The government has identified 8 critical worker employment sectors designated as critical to the COVID-19 response. These are:
- Health & social care
- Education & childcare
- Key public services (justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, journalists and broadcasting)
- Local & national government
- Food & other necessary goods
- Public safety & national security
- Utilities, communication & financial services
These designations do not specifically include all professional services sector staff per se.
Organisations that are outside of these designations need to apply judgement on whether the presence of their staff in the workplace (in this case, front of house and welcome staff) is ‘necessary’, ‘critical’ and ‘essential’ whilst minimising social contact where possible.
However, there is clarity regarding security officers. A security operative is considered a critical worker if they are deployed in the following:
- Critical security provision in hospitals, social care, the courts, government estate
buildings as well as key supermarkets/ food supply chain, the transport network and critical national infrastructure and utilities is critical work.
- Roles essential to supporting law and order, or which have the potential to limit any
further likely pressures on the police or national emergency services. This could include the guarding of empty or closed commercial property judged at risk, closed retail sites or sensitive office premises, or the monitoring of similar through CCTV or other remote means, and the provision of alarm response centres including mobile units.
To further assist in locally determining which private security roles are critical, decisions will need to be taken on a case-by-case basis by those contracting the provision of security officers and other security services.
It is likely that the majority of security officers guarding the buildings and/or reception areas of properties within the Colmore Business District will be doing so to provide the essential service of protecting property judged to be at increased risk from either low or no occupancy. Moreover, the visible presence of security officers is a deterrence to those who otherwise may increase demand on our local police and other emergency services.
The situation remains fluid and as always, professional judgement needs to be applied in light of any further amendments to governmental advice. The latest guidance from the SIA (Security Industry Authority) updated on 7th January 2021 to security operatives can be viewed here ‘Covid-19 and the Private Security Industry – Frequently Asked Questions’.
What are the enforcement options for people who refuse to wear face coverings?
In the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings. You may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face.
Face coverings are not classified as PPE (personal protective equipment) which is used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks, such as surgical masks or respirators used in medical and industrial settings.
Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19).
In England you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings (examples are given in brackets):
- public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses)
- taxis and private hire vehicles
- transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
- shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
- shopping centres (malls and indoor markets)
- auction houses
- premises providing hospitality (bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes), except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
- post offices, banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses
- estate and lettings agents
- premises providing personal care and beauty treatments (hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours)
- premises providing veterinary services
- visitor attractions and entertainment venues (museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, cultural and heritage sites, aquariums, indoor zoos and visitor farms, bingo halls, amusement arcades, adventure activity centres, indoor sports stadiums, funfairs, theme parks, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas including soft-play areas)
- libraries and public reading rooms
- places of worship
- funeral service providers (funeral homes, crematoria and burial ground chapels)
- community centres, youth centres and social clubs
- exhibition halls and conference centres
- public areas in hotels and hostels
- storage and distribution facilities
Face coverings are needed in NHS settings, including hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries. They are also advised to be worn in care homes.
You are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.
You should also wear a face covering in indoor places not listed here where social distancing may be difficult and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. Therefore this can lawfully apply to any offices or properties within the Colmore Business District that meet these criteria.
Collectively, all of the above are now classified as ‘relevant places’ for the purposes of COVID-19 legislation.
There are also a number of exemptions to the wearing of face coverings. The most commonly publicised exemptions include a child under the age of 11, and people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability. For a full list of exemptions, see here.
Who has responsibility for enforcing the face covering legislation?
Premises where face coverings are required should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law. What will be judged to be reasonable is subjective. However a building that clearly displays visible signs and posters requiring the wearing of face coverings, together with staff who approach anyone not wearing a face covering, will be strong evidence of taking reasonable steps.
Furthermore, it is important to highlight that approaching individuals regarding their refusal to wear a face covering can quickly escalate to a confrontational or even violent situation. It is imperative that organisations consider this when preparing COVID-19 operational risk assessments and safe systems of work procedures. Organisations may wish to consider providing conflict resolution awareness training to frontline, public facing staff who could reasonably find themselves having to try and diffuse any difficult situations.
The police can take measures if members of the public do not comply with this law without a valid exemption and transport operators can deny access to their public transport services if a passenger is not wearing a face covering, or direct them to wear one or leave a service.
‘The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020’ provide the police with enforcement powers, including issuing fixed penalty ticket fines of £200 (reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days) for the first offence.
Repeat offenders receiving fines on public transport or in an indoor setting will have their fines doubled at each offence.
After the first offence there will be no discount. For example, receiving a second fine will amount to £400 and a third fine will be £800, up to a maximum value of £6,400.
Furthermore, the legislation also provides powers to the police to use reasonable force to remove a non-compliant person from any ‘relevant place’.
Therefore – if a person enters a building or office whilst failing to wear a face covering without good excuse, staff and security officers have the right to ask the person to comply with the legislation. If this request is refused, staff and security officers have the right to ask the person to immediately leave the premises. If the person again refuses to comply, the police should be called. Upon arrival, the police can also direct the person to comply with the legislation and/or leave the premises. If the person continues to refuse to comply, and does not provide any reasonable excuse, the police have the power to forcibly remove the person from the premises and issue an enforcement fine – which may be by fixed penalty ticket or otherwise. In the most extreme of incidents, police may consider an arrest is justified to safely resolve the situation.