HSE contributing to the Coronavirus effort with relaxation of some regulatory rules and some advice for industry 

The Compliance People Consultant Dave Almond looks at steps the HSE is taking to assist businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been taking a number of steps to support businesses and government during the current crisis.  

It has also been supporting the efforts of the NHS, putting together a specialist team to ensure PPE being sourced is of the right quality.  

What guidance is there on fit testing for PPE? 

The HSE has provided an update on the fit testing of face masks to avoid transmission during the Coronavirus outbreak. This relates to tight fitting respiratorssuch as disposable FFP3 masks and reusable half masks which require correct fitting so there is a good seal around the user’s face. 

useful video on how to put on respirators and fit them during the health crisis has been shared online by the HSE. 

Is the HSE relaxing its rules? 

The HSE has also moved to relax some health and safety rules and provided industry guidance on staying legally compliant, as discussed below: 

  • First aid training – The pandemic has meant that many first aid courses are not running due to social distancing rules. This means first aid certificates are expiring and employers have been unable to book employees on refresher training courses. The HSE has confirmed that where this is the case, certificates due to expire from 16th March 2020 may qualify for a 3-month extension. This applies to the mainstream First Aid at Work (FAW) and Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW), as well as Offshore Medic (OM) and Offshore First Aid (OFA). However, employers must be able to demonstrate they have taken steps to access the training. 
  • Hand sanitiserFor the manufacturers and supply of biocidal hand sanitiser products there have been difficulties in sourcing the raw ingredients, and the HSE has used powers given to it by The Biocidal Product Regulations to relax the product authorisation requirements for alcoholbased hand sanitisers containing Propan-2-ol. This means that if products meet the relevant WHO-specified formulation they will not be required to obtain a product authorisation. Manufacturers will still need to contact the HSE however to obtain a derogation certificate. 
  • Examination and testing of plant and equipment – The HSE has provided advice for industry on thorough examination and testing (TE&T) of plant and equipment. This is particularly relevant for the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR).  The advice to duty holders is to ensure that plant and equipment remains safe to use. This means a thorough examination and testing scheme must still be maintained. The advice includes ensuring social distancing measures in the workplace aren’t perceived to be a barrier to carrying out TE&T and businesses currently closed due to the outbreak should give access to inspectors to carry out TE&T.  Where businesses cannot access inspection services, possibly due to demand or prioritisation with other industries, companies should take a risk-based approach to decide whether there are steps that can be taken to ensure the equipment remains safe to use or whether to stop using the equipment. 
  • PPE in the food industry – Recognising there have been issues with supply and demand for personal protective equipment (PPE)the food industry in particular has been affected by this and the HSE recently wrote an open letter to the industry on the subject recognising the restricted supply of PPE and the fact that the breathing in of flour dust is an occupational hazard in baking.  Suitable controls can be achieved through both good working practices and local exhaust ventilation, meaning that employees do not need to wear dust masks.  

What is the HSE’s approach to enforcement at the moment? 

While proactive inspections have been put on hold during the crisis to comply with government advice, the HSE has stated that it will respond to serious issues which arise.  

It has also added that where the HSE identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with the relevant PPE guidance to control public health risks (e.g. not taking appropriate action to socially distance or ensure workers in the shielded category can follow the NHS advice to self-isolate for the period specified), it will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risksadding that this includes providing specific advice to employers through to the issue of enforcement notices. 

As the situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to unfold it is likely that we will see further changes to the way businesses operate and are regulated.

Look out for future blog posts where The Compliance People will keep you up to date with what is happening, and what this means for you and your business.