As the Government continues to relax social distancing requirements, many charities have found the easing of lockdown as difficult to manage as going into lockdown. The rules can change quickly and often with little warning, which can make planning for the future difficult. With some charities facing significant losses to trading income, many charities will be thinking about how they can reopen safely.

It is unlikely that there will be a quick return to “business as usual” for charities or their employees, volunteers, fundraisers and service users, and it is expected that some form of social distancing will be necessary for some time. Charities should check the most recent restrictions to establish which parts of their operations can reopen. Whilst charity shops were able to reopen on 15 June, cafes and restaurants were not able to reopen until 4 July and although community centres are permitted to operate, they remain prohibited from hosting indoor sports or fitness activities until 25 July.

Charities have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health and safety of their employees and members of the public who attend their properties or are affected by their activities. On 2 July, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) made clear that their Inspectors would be ‘out and about, putting employers on the spot and checking that they are complying with health and safety law.’ The HSE advises that organisations should follow five practical steps:

  • Step 1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in line with HSE guidance;
  • Step 2. Develop increased cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures;
  • Step 3. Take all reasonable steps to help people work from home;
  • Step 4. Maintain 2m social distancing where possible;
  • Step 5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk.

When completing a Covid-19 risk assessment, charities should take into account sector-specific Covid-19 secure guidelines. The Government have now created a tool which will create a bespoke guide for organisations, based upon the sector, size and nature of their operations. On completion of the assessment, charities should implement suitable and sufficient measures to mitigate the risks identified. Common measures will include:

  • Signs and markings to encourage people to keep a safe distance from others in queues and the workplace;
  • Introducing screens or barriers where social distancing is not possible;
  • Using contactless payments wherever possible and discouraging the use of cash. Where it is necessary to handle cash, charities may wish to consider providing their employees and volunteers with disposable gloves and hand sanitiser; and
  • Ensuring staff know how to respond if someone is displaying symptoms of Covid-19.

However, careful consideration will need to be given to the measures that are required based upon the characteristics of a charity’s operations.

While it is for each organisation to complete their own risk assessment, there are a wide variety of resources to support this process. For example, the fundraising regulator has issued guidance in relation to the resumption of fundraising activities. This includes a requirement for training of fundraising teams on the measures required to minimise risks before they operate in public. Our earlier e-briefing on the reopening of churches outlines issues that will need to be considered by places of worship, and UK Hospitality have published detailed guidance which will be of assistance to charities operating cafes and restaurants. 

Particular thought should be given to vulnerable and shielded individuals, many of whom make up a significant percentage of charity volunteers. Where vulnerable volunteers are unable to continue their volunteer work for the time being, charities should consider how this will affect their ability to open and whether it is safe to do so. Care must also be taken to ensure that any new arrangements are equally inclusive and effective for the disabled.

While the focus has naturally been on Covid-19, ongoing health and safety risks should not be overlooked. Where buildings (or parts of buildings) have been closed for some time, charities should review all relevant risk assessments to identify any changes or additional risks that may have arisen during lockdown. In particular, where water systems have remained unused, there may be an increased risk of Legionella.

Charities may also wish to undertake a thorough health and safety check before buildings are reopened. Charities should also ensure buildings are cleaned thoroughly and any outstanding maintenance tasks are completed. A review of fire risk assessments and first aid procedures may also be advisable, given that changes in staff numbers and/or stock levels may have changed since lockdown began.

At first sight, the issues may be daunting, but by taking a thorough and systematic approach, charities will be able to minimise the risks they face as they resume their activities.

For more information

For more information on health and safety issues in charities, please contact Tim Coolican in our regulatory team or Edwina Turner in our charities team.