If the school/workplace is open then employers have a 'duty of care' for staff, pupils/students and anyone else who visits the school/workplace.

This means that they must do all they reasonably can to support their health, safety and wellbeing.

To make the workplace safe, employers must:

  • encourage staff to work from home, wherever possible, and
  • follow the workplace safety guidance

See: COVID-19 - Advice for Employers and Employees | Labour Relations Agency 

The HSE (NI) states that:

  • Exposure to COVID-19 may present a health risk to workers and other persons at a workplace.
  • Employers should continue to ensure that an appropriate assessment of the risk from COVID-19 in their workplace is carried out and appropriate measures put in place in line with current Public Health Agency guidelines.
  • These measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work.

Updated risk assessments & mitigations must be used by principals to their full effect to ensure a safe school environment for all, with support from EA.

As part of that support EA have produced the fooling risk assessment templates:

NEU fully expects DE guidance, including these template Risk Assessments to be adhered to when staff are required be present in closed schools - for essential duties which must be clearly set out and agreed in advance.

Managing the risk

As with the management of all workplace risks, sharing of the findings of the risk assessment and providing information on the controls in place is essential.

Listening to staffs’ fears and concerns is also important.

Employers should engage with their vulnerable employees about their working arrangements and, where possible, enable them to work from home. 

As determined by the risk assessment employer should also be able to offer alternative duties or change working patterns temporarily.

Where it is not possible for staff to work from home, schools/workplaces must regularly review their risk assessment, and do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect those staff from harm.

It is important to explain what will be done to protect them, in making the workplace safe and in managing work-related Covid-19 risk.

By consulting and involving vulnerable people in the steps schools/workplaces are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in the workplace, employers can hear their views and make sure changes will work.

This is especially important for clinical extremely vulnerable staff and consideration may also need to be given to staff living with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

Where working at home is not possible and, despite having done everything so far as is reasonably practicable, and yet doubt about residual risk exists an employer should seek a specialist occupational health opinion. 

This should help inform decisions as it will take into account workplace measures to minimise risk, the nature and severity of the ill health and Covid-19 local incidence. The report may also assist employers with responsibilities under Equality legislation.