UK & Europe
Research by Public Health England (PHE) indicates Covid-19 causes a disproportionate impact on some ethnic groups.
The review, "Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19", found that death rates from Covid-19 were higher in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups than in White ethnic groups.
In response, PHE, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) have recently issued a Consensus Statement (the "Statement") on the "Mitigation of risks of Covid-19 in occupational settings, focusing on ethnic minority groups".
Whilst the relative importance of different pathways in COVID-19 ethnic inequalities is still not well understood, as we enter the winter period, it is more important than ever that businesses ensure their risk assessments consider the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.
In this article, we look at the key points from the available guidance on this issue.
Review your risk assessment
The HSE has emphasised that employers should make sure they consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and put controls in place to reduce that risk. This includes supporting workers in higher risk groups, including those from BAME backgrounds.
There are currently no expectations of additional controls specifically for these groups. However, employers should ensure that existing controls (social distancing, good hygiene and cleaning, ventilation, supervision etc) are applied strictly.
Higher risk groups should be supported by:
The Statement confirms that employers should ensure that control measures address the risk of exposure to Covid-19 and are applied to all workers, rather than specific actions targeted at individuals of ethnic minority groups. Where required, "culturally competent" conversations with employees should address their individual concerns related to risk, vulnerabilities and individual situations. The appendix to the Statement provides some further advice to employers on how to have these conversations.
Employers should also be mindful of issues surrounding medical information when preparing their risk assessment. The Statement confirms that there should not be an expectation of disclosure of confidential medical information by individuals as part of this process unless as part of normal practice such as healthcare settings. Those who carry out these individual discussions on behalf of the employer should be trained and encouraged to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures and/or belief systems other than their own.
Review, assess, implement
We have previously commented on how employers can use existing risk assessment tools to face the new challenges which the pandemic has brought. Indeed, the need to review arrangements for managing risk when circumstances demand it is a cornerstone of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and good health and safety practice. Following the HSE guidance above and taking account of the key points in the Statement should ensure businesses comply with their legal obligation in relation to Covid-19 risk assessments, thereby minimising the risk of enforcement action.
Author: Rod Hunt, Partner
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 The relative importance of different pathways in COVID-19 ethnic inequalities is not yet well understood. Further information is available here- https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/drivers-of-the-higher-covid-19-incidence-morbidity-and-mortality-among-minority-ethnic-groups-23-september-2020
 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974