Five steps for making the workplace safer for employees with sight loss

The Government has produced practical actions for businesses to take based on five main steps.

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We would urge businesses to consider the needs of employees with sight loss in their planning.

1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

Before restarting work, you should ensure the safety of the workplace and consider employees with sight loss by:

  • Carrying out a risk assessment (See RNIB Factsheet on Risk Assessment for issues relating to sight loss).

  • Consulting with your blind or partially sighted staff or trade unions.

  • Sharing the results of the risk assessment with your workforce and on your website in an accessible format for all staff.

2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures

You should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by:

  • Encouraging people to follow the guidance on hand washing and hygiene ensuring that this is communicated in an accessible format.

  • Providing hand sanitiser around the workplace, in addition to washrooms and informing employees with sight loss as to the location of these.

  • Frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.

  • Enhancing cleaning for busy areas.

  • Setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets.

  • Providing hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers.

3. Help people to work from home

Working from home may be a more suitable option for a member of staff who has sight loss.

  • Discuss home working arrangements with them.

  • Ensure they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems and assistive technology.

  • Include them in all necessary communications.

  • Look after their physical and mental wellbeing. 

4. Maintain two metre social distancing, where possible

Where possible, you should maintain a two metre distance between people. There are challenges for people with sight loss to social distance but there are some actions which can help. Speak to your staff to ascertain how they will feel most safe and comfortable.

Working from home may be a more suitable option for some members of staff who have sight loss, or putting the onus on sighted staff to keep two metres' distance from colleagues who are blind or partially sighted.

  • The onus is on sighted staff to keep a two metre distance from colleagues who are blind or partially sighted. 

  • Put up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance in an accessible format. Here is a PDF with information on creating accessible documents.

    Here are some further tips about simple adjustments to make your workplace more accessible.

  • Avoid sharing workstations.

  • Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a two metre distance should be done using strong colour contrast and non-reflective material.

  • Arrange one-way traffic through the workplace if possible.

  • Switch to receiving visitors by appointment only if possible.

5. Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk

Where it’s not possible for people to be two metres apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:

  • Considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate.

  • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.

  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.

  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible.

  • Staggering arrival and departure times.

  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using "fixed teams or partnering".
     

Other considerations for Employers

There are some definitions and legislation that employers should be familiar with. 

Extremely Clinically Vulnerable Person

If an extremely clinically vulnerable person wants to continue to shield at home either because of government advice or because there is no vaccine for the virus available then it is likely that any insistence on their returning to work may lead to potential claims under health and safety legislation and of discrimination. 

Vulnerable People

"Vulnerable" people have not been advised by the government to shield.  Initially the government had published specific guidance aimed at vulnerable people, but this was withdrawn on 1 May 2020 after information had been updated and the “clinically vulnerable” category of persons was developed. Nevertheless, there is recognition that anyone with the health conditions set out in the regulations may be at greater risk from contracting the virus and may wish to continue to shield.  Employers will still need to conduct a risk assessment and may need to ask occupational health for input and/or for medical guidance from the employee’s GP.  

Section 44 Employment Act 1996

Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 is the Act that employment law solicitors look to when asked to give advice on health and safety at work.  Section 44 of the 1996 Act enables employees to challenge the adequacy and the suitability of any safety arrangements at work. 

If after raising concerns an employee feels they are in serious or imminent danger, they may have the right to leave work depending on the specific circumstances.  The relevant law is Section 44 of the Employment Act 1996 and it covers all employees. 

The law says:

Section 44.1: 

(d) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work, or

(e) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.

Discrimination – arising from disability

Under the Equality Act 2010 an employer has an obligation not to discriminate against a disabled employee by subjecting them to a detriment and/or dismissing them.

A possible discrimination in this situation is likely to arise where a disabled employee is subjected to a detriment and/or dismissed because they are shielding because their disability makes them vulnerable to the virus.  In these circumstances it is likely that they will have been treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of their disability.