Protecting Vulnerable Workers During The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
Protecting Vulnerable Workers During COVID-19

Protecting Vulnerable Workers During The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Employers have a legal duty to protect workers from harm, particularly during COVID-19. Employers should make sure they consider the risk to employers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and put controls in place to reduce that risk.

When supporting vulnerable employees employers need to be aware that some groups of people may be at more risk of being infected and/or an adverse outcome if infected. In this article, we are discussing medical vulnerability; However, there are other types of vulnerabilities during a pandemic, such as financial instability.

The higher-risk groups include those who:

  • Are older males
  • Have a high body mass index (BMI)
  • Have health conditions such as diabetes
  • Are from some black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds

There are currently no expectations of additional controls for these groups. However, employers should make sure their businesses have existing controls (social distancing, good hygiene and cleaning, ventilation, supervision etc) and that these controls are applied stringently.

Employers need to support individuals/groups in your workforce who are at a greater risk. Employers should support them by ensuring that:

    • Emphasising the importance of individual and wider workforce engagement, buy-in and cooperation to ensure controls are applied stringently; or
    • They have individual discussions with their managers around their particular concerns; or

employers/employees discuss the risk management measures employers have put in place to minimise transmission to keep them, and others, safe; or

  • Employers explain the controls you will put/already have in place to protect them and other workers



Shielding Employees

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (previously described as shielded).

These workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They should not return to workplaces before at least 31 July 2020 in Scotland, from 1 August 2020 in England and from 16 August 2020 in Wales.

After those dates, shielding will be paused and clinically extremely vulnerable workers can go to work as long as their workplace is COVID-secure, but they should carry on working from home where possible.

Employers should talk to clinically extremely vulnerable workers about their working arrangements and take every possible step to enable your workers to work from home.

When shielding is paused, where it is not possible for workers to work from home, employers must regularly review the relevant company risk assessment, and do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect those workers from harm by reducing any risks as much as possible.

It is important to explain to the employee what the employer will undertake to protect them, in making the workplace safe and COVID-secure.

By consulting with, managing and involving clinically extremely vulnerable people in the steps the company is taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in the working environment, employers can listen and take action on employees’ ideas whilst making sure that changes will work.

An example of this is undertaking tasks where stringent social distancing guidelines can be followed. This also applies to workers living with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

Employers can find more advice on shielding and protecting vulnerable people on the government website.

During the pandemic, pregnant workers have been advised to follow stringent social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother.

Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and should stay at home where possible. Employers will need to take this into account in their pregnancy risk assessment.

If employers cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, employers should suspend the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

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