Update at 7 May 2021
As an employer, USS has a common law duty of care towards its employees and to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm occurring to them. It also has a statutory duty to put in place systems which ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that employees may work without risk.
A risk assessment was undertaken in accordance with UK government guidance to help direct USS’ approach to managing the risks to staff members arising from COVID-19. This coincided with the partial re-opening of USS’ premises on 20 July 2020.
Since this time, when COVID-19 case numbers were falling, we have seen a significant increase in the number of cases and a tightening of government restrictions. For office environments this has meant a reinstatement of the guidance to work from home if you can and the need to observe additional requirements arising from local lockdowns. During this period, USS advised its staff to attend offices only if they needed to and most staff continued to work from home.
We are now preparing to re-open USS’ offices in accordance with the UK government’s ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021’ and roadmap (22 February 2021). USS staff members are currently attending USS offices either where they need to or for supporting their mental health and wellbeing.
The risk assessment will be updated as and when these arrangements change. A summary of the outcome of the risk assessment is outlined below.
USS established a small project group to identify risks to staff arising from COVID-19. Since March 2020, and for most of the intervening period, almost all USS staff have been working from home (“WFH”) with a small minority of staff members designated as ‘key workers’ in attendance at USS’ offices.
From 20 July USS’ offices were re-opened to allow a minority of staff members to work from the office if they needed to. However, the strong expectation was that most staff members would continue to WFH in the short to medium term.
As the virus progressed into its second wave, USS continued to advise its staff members, in accordance with the government’s advice, to WFH if they can. However, staff members can use USS’ office premises if they need to, including to support the management of their mental health and wellbeing. Business travel remains very restricted and is only undertaken where there is a strong business need. Similarly, USS is only receiving business visitors into its premises where the activities addressed by the visit cannot be performed in any other way.
USS recognises there are risks to staff arising from COVID-19 both from a prolonged period of home working and when working in the office. Risk assessments were prepared to address both these scenarios.
To support the office re-opening, the risk assessments were summarised into an employee-friendly format. USS ran a consultation process with all staff members in early July 2020 to obtain feedback on the new working arrangements. Further consultations will be implemented as needed.
These documents, together with other project activities, continue to guide USS’ approach to managing COVID-19 risks effectively.