The Government has produced practical actions for businesses to make returning to work safer.

As lockdown eases, we would urge businesses to consider the needs of employees with sight loss in their planning. Our advisers have prepared this short film with some simple steps to consider.

The steps you should consider to make returning to the workplace safer for employees with sight loss are simple and shouldn't take long to put in place. Here are some more details and links to other resources that will help you to plan.

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 our information about Risk Assessments 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. Communicate changes to the environment

Make sure employees with sight loss are made aware of any changes to the workplace, such as floor indicators, protective screens and temporary barriers. Ensure any temporary signage is in size 14 font at least – hand-written notes can be difficult for everyone to read. But where you can, verbalise any changes to your employees.

3. Make floor markings and protective screens accessible

Using tactile floor markers can help indicate one-way systems or boundaries and adding coloured tape around the edge of protective screens will improve their contrast and visibility.

4. Highlight hygiene stations

To keep everyone safe, ensure your blind and partially sighted employees know the measures you have put in place to increase cleaning and hygiene.

  • Provide hand sanitiser around the workplace, in addition to washrooms and inform employees with sight loss as to the location of these. Don’t assume everyone knows where it is.
  • You may want to consider purchasing sanitiser which comes in coloured or opaque packaging to make it more visible.

5. Be aware of social distancing challenges

There are challenges for people with sight loss to social distance but there are some actions which can help. The onus is on sighted staff to keep an appropriate 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. Ensure any temporary signage is in size 14 font at least – hand-written notes can be difficult for everyone to read. But where you can, verbalise any changes to your employees. Here is a PDF with information on creating accessible documents.

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

6. Additional support via Access to Work

The government’s Access to Work scheme may be able to help advise on additional workplace adjustments, as well as provide financial and practical support for your blind or partially sighted employees. There's lots more information about the Access to Work scheme here.

7. Home working

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

  • Discuss home working arrangements with your employee.

  • 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.

8. Just ask

Providing up-to-date information about any new measures you put in place is key. Speaking to your staff is the best way to ascertain how they will feel most safe and comfortable. Your employees with sight loss are best placed to describe how they see, and what will be best to help them.

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.