Safer office working for accountancy firms
In August 2021 all of Scotland moved out of the COVID-19 levels system. However, with the arrival of the new Omicron variant, accountancy firms should take steps to strengthen compliance with current protection measures and make an extra effort to do so from now through the festive period and into 2022.
Accountancy firms have a duty to manage workplace risks under existing health and safety legislation, in addition to the specific requirements set out in the Coronavirus Regulations. On 17 December 2021, regulations were introduced in Scotland to help combat transmission of the Omicron variant.
The regulations state that a person who is responsible for carrying on a business or providing a service must:
- have regard to guidance issued by Scottish Ministers about measures to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus; and
- take such of these measures as are reasonably practicable to minimise the incidence and spread of coronavirus on their premises.
The Scottish Government has at the same time published new guidance for businesses and workplaces. This new guidance replaces previously issued sector specific guidance.
The government’s Risk assessment - Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic guidance sets out further detail on risk assessment and duties as a business or service provider.
Although many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted under amendments made to the Coronavirus Regulations before the Omicron variant’s emergence, accountancy firms and their staff should continue to manage the risk of virus transmission in their workplace. This means that firms should:
- follow government guidance.
- support working from home where reasonably practical.
- continue to conduct and regularly review risk assessments.
- implement measures identified within risk assessments.
- maximise good ventilation.
- encourage everyone to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene and surface cleaning
- encourage everyone to comply with face covering regulations.
- follow and support workers to follow self-isolation guidance for both those displaying symptoms and those contacted by Test and Protect.
- encourage staff to take a test twice weekly and on every occasion they intend to mix socially with people from other households.
- continue to work with staff, or staff representatives, on health and safety matters.
- help staff to understand the steps they and their organisation can take to prevent COVID-19 spreading in the workplace.
- consider available resources to support the mental health of staff whether working from home or in the office.
Working from home
Firms should be particularly mindful of their duty to take every reasonably practical step to facilitate working from home and to make working from home the default position. Where it is reasonably practicable for a person to perform their work from home, they should do so. This is especially expected of those roles that were done at home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
From 17 December 2021, by law, businesses must take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus. Supporting employees to work from home where reasonably practical, is an important part of that.
Where home working is, for whatever reason, not practicable, firms should take reasonable measures to minimise the incidence and spread of coronavirus within the office. The guidance issued includes the following measures to be taken:
- Changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations to allow for physical distancing.
- Controlling the use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts; introducing one-way systems where possible and appropriate.
- Controlling the use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens.
- Installing barriers or screens in for example reception areas.
- Providing or requiring the use of personal protective equipment.
- Providing information on minimisation of risk to those working in or visiting the workplace.
- Providing access to sanitiser and hand-washing facilities.
- Regular cleaning of work equipment, chairs and workstation areas and common touch points.
- Regular cleaning and sanitising of communal areas.
- Asking those working in the office to take a lateral flow test at least twice weekly before coming into the office.
- Encourage staff to get vaccinated and boosted.
- Minimising the use of touchpoints throughout buildings, including exploring where possible how digital processes or systems may replace the need for face-to-face discussion.
- Staggering break times to reduce pressure on break/eating areas.
- Encouraging the use of outdoor spaces for meetings and breaks.
- Follow the government’s ventilation guidance.
Despite the vaccination programme, it is vital that everyone follows the guidance and self-isolates straight away when symptoms of COVID-19 (a new, continuous cough; fever or loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste) first appear. If these symptoms develop whilst at work, the individual should be sent home immediately.
If you require further support or guidance, contact our Practice Support team.