Health and safety and returns to the office at HMRC
On 11 August, Angela MacDonald, HMRC deputy chief executive, published an intranet message around “changes to our workplace” which included updates on imminent safety measures to be implemented in HMRC workplaces and around plans for the return of people to offices. PCS has subsequently held discussions with the department about this announcement and about the implementation of updated UK and devolved government workplace health and safety guidance.
Effective from Monday (16), HMRC strongly encourages the use of face coverings within all of its workplaces throughout the UK. This will apply at all times within HMRC offices unless seated at your desk or in a reduced occupancy meeting room, unless you are medically exempt.
While the wearing of face coverings in offices remains a personal choice, it is a requirement in HMRC offices to wear a face covering when not working at your desk. It is also a reasonable measure which people are being asked to adhere to in the best interests of their health and wellbeing, given that face coverings do (to varying extents) provide a degree of protection from potentially contracting Covid-19. In all workplaces in Scotland, the wearing of face coverings remains a legislative requirement.
Office health and safety arrangements
Following review of the updated guidance published by the UK and devolved governments, changes will be implemented to Covid-19 safety arrangements within HMRC workplaces. These changes will include revisions to occupancy levels of lifts and welfare facilities and a review of one-way systems, however the impact of these planned changes will be considered through revision of building Covid-19 risk assessments, with the latest version currently being drafted and subject to review in conjunction with local health and safety reps.
A number of Covid-19 protection measures will be retained however, reduced occupancy levels, including continuing the checkerboard seating arrangement to prevent face-to-face working, pending further guidance updates. Enhanced cleaning within all HMRC buildings will also be retained, continuing for the rest of the financial year at least. HMRC has also commissioned building ventilation surveys to identify any additional works required to ensure workplaces have good standards of ventilation and to reduce the potential of Covid-19 transmission.
Returns to the office
HMRC’s current expectation is for returns to offices to take place for an average of one day a week by the end of September, with no timeline in place at present for any eventual increase to two or three days a week. This expectation is for all those in England and Scotland, and PCS has been made aware of specific concerns around returns to the workplace in Scotland and the application of Scottish Government guidance. The Scottish Government states that while workers should be encouraged by businesses to work from home, a gradual return to offices can begin following Scotland’s protection level reduction which took place on Monday, 9 August.
The changing prevalence of Covid-19 across the UK may well result in further updates and amendments to government guidance and HMRC’s plans remain flexible and subject to change as required. PCS will monitor any future changes to ensure HMRC acts in the best interests of health, safety, and wellbeing for our members. PCS will also continue to consider the impact on members of planned returns to offices and will escalate and address any potential concerns around the health and safety measures in place within HMRC buildings.