Relaxation of coronavirus legislation in Wales from 13 July: initial guidance for churches

We post the following with the kind permission of The Revd Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer at Cytûn/Churches Together in Wales

On July 10 2020, the Welsh Government published the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020. These are entirely new Regulations, rather than a further update of those first introduced in March 2020. The provisions which affect churches came into force yesterday, 13 July. The guidance from the Welsh Government is now expected tomorrow, 14 July.

Regulation 12(3)(b) designates a place of worship as “open premises”, i.e. it is lawful for it to be open to the public. Regulation 12(2) places duties on the “person responsible” for the premises (in law a “person’ may be a constituted body such as an Elders’ or Deacons’ Meeting), for the purposes of minimising the risk of exposure to coronavirus at the premises, to:

(a) take all reasonable measures to ensure—

(i) that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any persons on the premises (except between two members of the same household, or a carer and the person assisted by the carer);
(ii) where persons are required to wait to enter the premises, that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between them (except between two members of the same household, or a carer and the person assisted by the carer),

(b) take any other reasonable measures for that purpose, for example, measures which limit close face to face interaction and maintain hygiene such as—

(i) changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
(ii) controlling use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
(iii) controlling use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
(iv) otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
(v) installing barriers or screens; (vi) providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment, and

(c) provide information to those entering or working at the premises about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.

Regulation 13(1) then places a duty on the same “person” to: have regard to guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers about those measures.

It was anticipated that the specific guidance regarding places of worship would be published on Monday 13 July. Church authorities are advised, therefore, to await the publication of this guidance before finalising detailed preparations to re-open.

Regulation 15 permits organised outdoor activity organised by, amongst others, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution [15(2)(b)(ii) – this would include churches and Christian charities] consisting of no more than 30 persons [15(1)], provided that
the person organising it has—

(i) carried out a risk assessment which would satisfy the requirements of Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999(1), whether or not the person is subject to those Regulations, and
(ii) complied with the requirements of regulations 12(2) and 13(1)
[which are the requirements above to reduce the risk of coronavirus and to have regard to guidance issued by Welsh Ministers].

For convenience, we reproduce here the regulations regarding risk assessment which are referenced here, as subsequently amended:

Risk assessment

3.—(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—

(a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and

(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,

for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions.

(2) Every relevant self-employed person shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—

(a) the risks to his own health and safety to which he is exposed whilst he is at work; and

(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,

for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions.

(3) Any assessment such as is referred to in paragraph (1) or (2) shall be reviewed by the employer or relevant self-employed person who made it if—

(a) there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid; or

(b) there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates; and where as a result of any such review changes to an assessment are required, the employer or relevant self-employed person concerned shall make them.

(3A) In this regulation “relevant self-employed person” means a self-employed person who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description for the purposes of section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

(4) An employer shall not employ a young person unless he has, in relation to risks to the health and safety of young persons, made or reviewed an assessment in accordance with paragraphs (1) and (5).

(5) In making or reviewing the assessment, an employer who employs or is to employ a young person shall take particular account of—

(a) the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of young persons;

(b) the fitting-out and layout of the workplace and the workstation;

(c) the nature, degree and duration of exposure to physical, biological and chemical agents;

(d) the form, range, and use of work equipment and the way in which it is handled;

(e) the organisation of processes and activities;

(f) the extent of the health and safety training provided or to be provided to young persons; and

(g) risks from agents, processes and work listed in the Annex to Council Directive 94/33/EC on the protection of young people at work, as amended by Directive 2014/27/EU.

(6) Where the employer employs five or more employees, he shall record—

(a) the significant findings of the assessment; and

(b) any group of his employees identified by it as being especially at risk.

We conclude, therefore, that the “person” responsible for arranging an outdoor activity under these new Regulations needs to fulfil the responsibilities of an “employer or relevant self-employed person” in these health and safety regulations, even if they are not an employer or self-employed, and that they do so with regard to the safety of all those attending the event (and not employees alone).

Regulation 16(2) of the new Regulations continues to require that those working or providing voluntary or charitable services should continue to do so from home if it is reasonably practicable for the person to work or to provide voluntary or charitable services from the place where they are living. This is different from the situation in England. Churches in Wales, therefore, should continue to consider holding worship and other activities in a way which allows people to join from home rather than attending a place of worship. Only those activities which require gathering together in person should move back to the place of worship.

Some churches run community centres. Currently, under Regulation 10(4), these centres must remain closed, except to provide:

(a) essential voluntary services, or
(b) public services upon the request of the Welsh Ministers or a local authority.

There is no definition of “essential voluntary services” in these regulations, but in previous Regulations food banks and services for the homeless were specifically referenced. Under (b), blood donor sessions have been referenced previously, and also child care services with the permission of the local authority.

The Welsh Government has announced that it is expected that community centres will be able, from Monday 20 July to restart more public services at the discretion of local authorities … One such vital service is that delivered by voluntary and local authority youth work services. We are working closely with young people and the sector to develop specific guidance to support their wider re-opening and this will follow shortly thereafter. Re-opening community centres will also help local authorities provide summer holiday play schemes and childcare.

The distinction between a “place of worship” and a “community centre” continues to be unclear (as they are often integral parts of the same building), so we would advise churches not to re-start community activities which are not “essential” in their buildings until new regulations are announced regarding community centres from July 20. Churches who wish to arrange activities for children and young people over the summer are advised to contact their local authority for guidance.

Some churches run cafés. Regulation 6(1) states that the ‘person’ responsible must close any part of its premises which is indoors and used for the consumption of food or drink. Church cafés, therefore, may serve food and drink in the open air, provided that they have the facilities to do so in accordance with health and safety and food hygiene regulations, and if they have carried out a risk assessment following the risk assessment regulations above.

Regulation 14 restricts the reasons why individuals may gather indoors. Attendance at a place of worship is not currently one of the permitted reasons, other than to attend a funeral or wedding by invitation, even though it is lawful to re-open places of worship under the conditions above. We imagine this must be an error, but this reinforces our advice that churches should await the publication of the full guidance by Welsh Government before taking a final decision to reopen.

The Welsh Government is publishing new guidance regularly, and this can be found here.

Cytûn will continue to try to draw churches’ attention to relevant new guidance as it is published.

4 thoughts on “Relaxation of coronavirus legislation in Wales from 13 July: initial guidance for churches

  1. The regulations were slightly updated on July 17 (https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-07/the-health-protection-coronavirus-restrictions-no.-2-wales-amendment-regulations-2020.pdf), including adding attendance at a place of worship as a permitted reason to gather indoors. Welsh Government’s commendably detailed guidance for places of worship was finally published on July 20 – https://gov.wales/guidance-reopening-places-worship-coronavirus-html – and contains links to other relevant Welsh Government guidance. The notable continuing lacuna is guidance for community centres (including places of worship operating as community centres). It appears that the restrictions on community use under Regulation 10(4), quoted above, remain in place.

  2. The regulations were further updated from 3 August – the latest version (with tracked changes) can be found here: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-07/the-health-protection-coronavirus-restrictions-no-2-wales-regulations-2020-as-amended-with-changes-illustrated.pdf
    Regulation 15 regarding outdoor activity has now been replaced by Regulation 14A, which allows gatherings outdoors for any purpose by up to 30 people (subject, of course, to maintaining social distancing etc). Gatherings of more than 30 people are permitted to, amongst other things, “provide voluntary or charitable services”.
    Regulation 16(2), requiring work or the provision of voluntary or charitable services to be from home where practicable, has now been repealed.
    However, the restrictions on the use of community centres (and, by extension, the community use of places of worship) in Regulation 10(4) remain in force. Welsh Government has now published detailed guidance on this: https://gov.wales/safe-use-multi-purpose-community-centres-covid-19. Places of worship wishing to host child care or other public services in their buildings should, therefore, contact their local authority for advice and permission to do so.
    Cafes may now reopen indoors as well as outdoors, subject to following the guidance from Welsh Government published on 31 July 2020: https://gov.wales/tourism-and-hospitality-businesses-guidance-phased-reopening

  3. Pingback: COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance | Law & Religion UK

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