Schools, Charities and Local Government: Staying safe and secure for the year ahead

Across educational establishments, charitable organisations and councils, COVID-19 has squeezed already incredibly tight operating margins. The unforeseen requirements these employers must now adhere to have created further financial and resourcing burdens, and careful management has never been more important. However, as lockdown measures ease and we return to work and study, employers must remember that their top priority remains keeping people safe.

Remaining COVID-secure post-reopening

Reopening means making a number of adjustments to your workplace and workforce to ensure the ongoing threat of COVID-19 is properly managed. All employers with five or more employees must conduct and document a risk assessment and take resulting action.

It will not be possible to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 completely and that is not what the law requires. It’s about being able to demonstrate that you have taken all “reasonably practicable” measures, where the time, effort and cost involved in implementing a control is proportionate to the risk. You can find a free risk assessment template and supporting guidance tailored to your sector on Ellis Whittam’s Coronavirus Advice Hub.

Let’s look in turn at how leadership teams in each sector can best prioritise for the year ahead:

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Education

How are you preparing for September? Top of the agenda for schools is the requirement to bring back all staff and students for the new academic year.

The government made specific guidance on this available at the beginning of July – aiming to clarify the measures schools should be taking. The document highlights the hierarchy of control measures which you should be following to make “reasonable efforts” and provide a COVID secure environment. However, it fails to address some of the practicalities of bringing students onto the school site and moving them around in a safe way. It will fall upon school and college leadership teams to make the right decisions for their environment based on the guidance published.

To be ready for September, we recommend focusing efforts on the following:

  • Don’t waste hours trawling through the various guidance that is publicly available and changing regularly. Resources such as Ellis Whittam’s free Coronavirus Advice Hub pull together all the latest information you need in one place.
  • Prioritise key safety requirements first and worry about non-safety-critical assets at a later date.
  • Remember, regular risk assessment is key. This isn’t about creating reams of paperwork, but you do need to document the sensible, practical and proportionate measures you have taken to keep people safe.
  • Ensure your governors play an active role in the management of your school, namely the various compliance duties that are required under different legislation.
  • Involve staff and pupils in the promotion of COVID-19 measures and utilise this opportunity to change the face of health and safety amongst your teaching staff and the wider community.

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Local government

Local government leaders at every level must prioritise their duty of care to the public, particularly in terms of what people see and feel, from waste collection to council office services, to leisure centres, parks and playgrounds.

Regular risk assessment will be vital to ongoing infection mitigation and reputational management. Communication here is key as not only is it a legal requirement to consult with employees on health and safety matters but it also instils confidence and encourages a return to work. When it comes to outsourcing, councils should ensure they have robust contractor management procedures in place that ensure no uncontrolled risks are introduced into the workplace. No council wants to find itself operating an environment that has become a COVID hotspot, nor have to deal with the challenge of refusals to return to work.

Those running local government must be able to demonstrate that reasonably practicable measures have been introduced and regularly updated within the funding and resources available to them.

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Charities

Income streams of organisations in the charity sector have been one of the hardest hit by lockdown and social distancing. Despite the permitted reopening of high street charity shops, major fundraising events have ceased. It remains unclear when large dinners, sporting events, concerts and other sizable gatherings will be allowed to recommence.

While some degree of cuts is likely to be inevitable, workplace health and safety is one area that cannot be sacrificed. This doesn’t have to mean expensive systems, but you must do what’s reasonably practicable to protect your employees and volunteers, as well as fundraisers and customers on your premises. Of course, with budget constraints also comes the need to streamline or strip back your operations, and charities will need to consider how this, coupled with new ways of working, may change the structure of the organisation going forward.

The ‘Back to Business’ section of the Coronavirus Advice Hub contains guidance for making changes to employment contracts and amending employees’ terms and conditions. Regardless of your best efforts, and the various support mechanisms offered by the government, redundancies may be a reality and the processes you need to be aware of are also explained through guidance on the Hub.

Despite the financial challenge that COVID-19 has posed, safety must remain the number one priority for all as we make adjustments to how we operate as organisations.

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Ellis Whittam helps over 17,500 British businesses and organisations to create great, safe places to work through fixed-fee Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety support. 

Download free sector-specific guides, templates and risk assessments, as well as further COVID-19 employer support resources, from its Coronavirus Advice Hub.

While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information provided is correct, no liability is accepted by Lloyds Bank for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission. This is for information only and should not be relied upon as offering advice for any set of circumstances. Specific advice should always be sought in each instance.

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While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information provided is correct, no liability is accepted by Lloyds Bank for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission. This is for information only and should not be relied upon as offering advice for any set of circumstances. Specific advice should always be sought in each instance.