With places of worship now permitted to open with restrictions, churches need to decide if they can safely open again for worship purposes. While we as church families understandably long to meet again in person, there are serious risks to consider, and real consequences for not assessing or mitigating those risks satisfactorily.
What do we need to do?
All churches should conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment to help decide what actions to take to safely open. While discretion is given to each church in deciding what is safe, churches are ‘strongly advised’ to follow the government guidance for making their church safe to open.
- The government guidance on safe opening of places of worship can be found here
- Risk assessment templates and examples from the H&S Executive can be found here
- A template risk assessment produced by the FIEC can be found here
What are the consequences of not doing this?
Legal and financial consequences
Failure to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment could constitute a breach of Health and Safety legislation, as could having a risk assessment with insufficient measures set out.
Moreover, if it can be proved that government guidance was wilfully ignored by an opening church, or irrational reasons given for not adhering to it, there may be grounds for criminal liability on the part of that church or its trustees individually.
There could also be legal consequences if a church doesn’t respond and act on any concerns raised by the Local Authority surrounding that church’s risk assessment.
Finally, it is unlikely that insurers will pay out to churches who have not followed guidance which the government have ‘strongly advised’ churches to follow. Therefore, in practice, to avoid liability and remain insured, churches would be wise to follow the guidance.
We seek to be good witnesses to our communities, and good overseers of our church families. Failure to comply with government guidance puts both that good witness and the safety of our church family at risk. Not being able to meet physically as a church is of course upsetting, but it may be that it is a sacrifice that needs to be made for a little while longer.
Where should we go for support?
We recommend you speak with your insurers regarding your cover.
The following insurers specialise in church insurance and may have information or advice useful to you:
You may also find it helpful speaking to a Health and Safety consultant. The FIEC have produced an article outlining the legal duties of a church under Health and Safety law:
These are challenging, uncertain times and there will be difficult discussions and decisions ahead for most churches. We pray for God to grant you wisdom as you prayerfully make these decisions, and that He would be glorified in the way do so.
This information has been provided by solicitors working for Edward Connor Solicitors. It is designed for the purpose of knowledge sharing only and does not constitute legal advice.
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