The coronavirus pandemic has introduced a new, largely unknown risk to the workplace, and if your safety arrangements are to be successful, staff will need to be trained to carry them out.

Communication and training is an important element of your return-to-work planning, as your usual practices and procedures will likely have changed and new measures may have been introduced to minimise the risk of transmission. In addition, changes made due to COVID-19 may have a knock-on effect on other risk assessments, and staff will need to be aware of how all of this impacts their safety and the safety of others.

Whether they have been working from home for an extended period or after being furloughed, staff will need to know what to expect on their first few days and weeks back at work. This blog explains what you, as an employer, should do to make sure your employees receive appropriate health and safety training, not only during these extraordinary times but more generally. It discusses the legal requirement to provide training, who might need it, what form it may take, and how to organise it.

The law

Under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers must, “so far as is reasonably practicable” provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision is necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work.

The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 add that health and safety training is particularly important:

  • When people start work.
  • On exposure to new or increased risks, such as COVID-19.
  • Where existing skills become rusty or need updating.

A number of other regulations also include specific health and safety training requirements such as first aid.

In addition, the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 and Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 also require that you consult your employees or their representatives on health and safety issues. Consulting with employees and involving them in the risk assessment process can result in a much safer workplace, as your employees will have first-hand knowledge of hazards and will be well placed to help you assess risks and develop ways to control or remove them.

Like many employers, you may not be able to provide the required training on your own. You may appoint or seek help from a “competent person”. This is someone who has the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to help meet the requirements of health and safety law. Ellis Whittam can provide this competent assistance, including bespoke health and safety training.

The aims of health and safety training

For organisations, health and safety training helps to:

  • Ensure your employees are not injured or made ill by the work they do;
  • Develop a positive health and safety culture, where safe and healthy working becomes second nature; and
  • Meet your legal duty to protect employees’ health and safety.

Investing in effective training also helps to:

  • Make your employees competent in health and safety;
  • Avoid the distress that accidents and ill health can cause; and
  • Avoid the financial cost of incidents and associated absences.

In this way, training is fundamental to any health and safety management plan and is not only a legal requirement but makes sound business sense.

Who needs health and safety training?

Everyone working for you needs to know how to work safely and without risk to their health.

Do your managers or supervisors know what’s expected of them in terms of delivering health and safety? Training will help them to understand your Health & Safety Policy, including your objectives, your approach to managing health and safety, and where they fit in. Training may also be needed in the specific hazards present in your workplace or associated with your processes and how you expect these risks to be controlled. This might include developing and providing training in safe systems of work.

Are your employees up to speed with how to identify the hazards and control the risks arising from their work? If not, they need health and safety training. They similarly need to know about your Health & Safety Policy, your arrangements for implementing it, and the part they play, as well as how to raise any health and safety concerns.

Contractors and self-employed workers who aren’t familiar with your working environment and safety systems may also need basic health and safety training. Any contractor entering your premises during coronavirus will need to understand your arrangements for keeping them, your staff and others safe.

Finally, do you as an employer or senior leader understand your responsibilities? Are you competent in health and safety strategy and the development of management systems? Do you know how to create a COVID-secure workplace? If not, then you may also benefit from health and safety training.

Workers with specific health and safety training needs

Some employees will have particular training needs:

  • New recruits will need basic health and safety induction training to improve their awareness of workplace risks and help them understand your approach to keeping people safe and their responsibilities. This should cover things like your emergency arrangements, accident reporting procedures any any job-specific training required such as the safe use of equipment.
  • People changing jobs or taking on extra responsibility will need to understand any new health and safety implications.
  • Young employees and those aged 60 and over are especially vulnerable to accidents, so pay particular attention to their training needs. It’s important that new, inexperienced or young employees are adequately supervised.
  • Employee representatives or safety representatives require training that reflects their responsibilities.
  • All workers will need periodic refresher training to review some of the fundamentals they may have forgotten, or brush up on new information they may not be aware of. This will also re-establish the key values they were taught during their induction, help workers to identify and address bad habits, and safeguard against complacency.

Your risk assessments should identify further training needs associated with specific risks.

How can I do it?

Firstly, decide what training your organisation needs:

  • Identify the skill and knowledge needed to do a job in a safe and healthy way. Compare this against workers’ current skills/knowledge and identify the gaps.
  • Review your injuries, near misses or cases of ill health to decide on target training areas.
  • Look at your risk assessments to see where information and/or training have been identified as factors in controlling risks.

Secondly, decide what method best suits your needs and will be most effective and helping people learn and retain information. This might be:

  • Coaching or on-the-job training
  • Classroom training
  • Interactive e-Learning
  • Groups or individual training
  • Opt-in training sessions
  • Providing information or instruction

Whatever your approach, make sure information is easy to understand. Use a variety of methods to deliver your message, consult your employees or their representatives on the planned training, and make sure you properly prioritise your organisation’s training needs. Where you are unsure, have a “competent person” assist you in devising and delivering you health and safety training.

Finally, check the training has worked:

  • Do employees understand what’s required of them?
  • Do they now have the skills and knowledge needed to work safely and without risk to health?
  • Are they actually working as they’ve been trained to? This will require regular monitoring.
  • Has your organisation’s health and safety performance improved?

When it comes to health and safety, a proactive approach is essential. Don’t wait for an injury or ill-health incident to occur in your workplace before addressing knowledge gaps and unsafe practices; build training into your overall management plan to ensure everyone remains risk-aware.

Importantly, with the HSE now actively inspecting organisations to check their COVID compliance, regular communication and training will prevent any suggestion that employees haven’t been informed of your risk control measures or made aware of what they must do to keep themselves and others safe.

We’re available now

Under UK health and safety legislation, all employers must have access to at least one competent person to help them operate safely and compliantly.

At Ellis Whittam, not only can we support you with all aspects of risk management by assigning a professionally-qualified Health & Safety specialist to act as one of your competent persons, but we can also improve the competence of your internal teams through a variety of online and offline training solutions.

To discuss your needs and find out how we can support your Health & Safety goals, call 0345 226 8393 or visit or Coronavirus Advice Hub for more free resources and training materials.

ONLINE TRAINING | IOSH Safety for Executives and Directors

Looking to improve your understanding of health and safety, demonstrate your commitment to employee wellbeing, and protect your business from prosecution? Learn essential skills in effective risk management, including how to create a COVID-secure workplace, with this one-day course for business owners, senior managers and directors.

29 September 2020 | 09:00 – 16:30

Director of Health & Safety Services

Nick Wilson

Health and safety should be a priority for any business but ensuring compliance can often feel like a daunting task. We’re here to help you turn complex regulations into sensible, proportionate controls.

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