Each individual place of worship is strongly advised to apply this guidance with reference to its own specific circumstances, including its size and type of activities, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated.
Venue managers of places of worship will have discretion over when they consider it safe to open and should decide to remain closed if they are not able to safely adhere to the guidelines outlined below.
Venue managers should take all possible steps to secure the safety of the public, ensuring that gathering limits are adhered to. While places of worship will not be mandated to implement any further restrictions that a Local Authority may suggest to control the spread of the virus. Individual venues should work with local authorities, neighbouring businesses and travel operators to assess this risk and apply any additional actions to reduce the risk of transmission. These could include:
- Further lowering capacity - even if it is possible to seat a larger numbers of people inside a venue safely, it may not be safe for them all to travel to and from, or enter and exit, the venue.
- Staggering entry times with other local venues and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas.
- Establishing pre-booking arrangements so that, at particularly busy times, no more than can be safely accommodated arrive at the venue.
- Arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues. Advising visitors to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.
- Many places of worship are also workplaces and should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers under health and safety law. Places of worship also have a duty of care to volunteers, to ensure that as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Consideration should be given to how fair and equal access can safely be provided for all users to be able to undertake faith practices within a place of worship, in line with government guidelines and considering requirements under the Equality Act 2010 where these apply.
To help decide which actions to take, we advise that a COVID-19 risk assessment is completed by each place of worship and for some events or gatherings this will be required by law. This may be done in addition to any risk assessment already in place or as a separate assessment.
This link provides generic guidance on completing a risk assessment. Assessments should be done in consultation with unions or workers (including volunteers and contractors) if relevant. It may also be beneficial to discuss the risk assessment with worshippers or other stakeholders (such as neighbouring tenants or property owners) to assist understanding among faith communities and local communities and improve reopening design and execution.
Failure to complete a risk assessment that accounts for COVID-19 could constitute a breach of Health & Safety legislation and could also lead to a breach of law.
Having a risk assessment with insufficient measures set out could also constitute a breach of the above legislation. Places of worship are encouraged to make their risk assessments available online where possible.
Venue managers are strongly advised to take action to minimise the potential for spreading of COVID-19 among worshippers, and those working or volunteering within the building and surrounding grounds. You may want to engage worshippers in co-designing an informal community behaviour agreement.