Here is an update on MRS’ guidance on social distancing, facial coverings and vaccinations following the various government announcements about arrangements after 19 July 2021.
The MRS Standards Team are currently reviewing all the guidance to update it with the new requirements. However, to help you prepare for the changes, the Standards team have prepared a summary of the current MRS position:
Social distancing and facial coverings
Whilst facial coverings are no longer required by law in England, the UK Government ‘expects and recommends’ that people continue to wear face coverings in enclosed and crowded spaces. The Scottish, Welsh and Irish Governments continue to require the use of facial coverings as do some public transport networks such as Transport for London.
- Research practitioners must undertake risk assessments prior to the commencement of any data collection, and this must include considerations regarding social distancing and facial coverings.
- Participants’ attitudes to facial coverings and social distancing cannot be known until they have been engaged by research practitioners and agreed to take part in data collection. As such, research practitioners must continue to use facial coverings and maintain social distancing when recruiting participants.
During Data Collection
- Research practitioners must continue to adhere to any relevant government guidance in the country where they are undertaking any data collection. For example, for England this would be the UK Government working safely during coronavirus guidance. This guidance was updated yesterday and focuses on the need to undertake risk assessments, provide clear guidance on how to work safely, improve ventilation in indoor spaces and leaves employers to determine appropriate measures to minimise Covid-19 in the workplace. Scotland continues to operate its Protection Level system, Wales its Alert system and Northern Ireland has guidance.
- Research practitioners must continue to adhere to any client corporate guidance, when it requires a higher level of safety than the government guidance; this includes data collection undertaken in halls, hospitals, hotels, public transport and other venues. For example, if a retailer decides to continue to require facial coverings and social distancing in its outlets any research practitioners undertaking data collection must follow the client’s corporate policy.
- Research practitioners must continue to use facial coverings and adhere to social distancing in environments which include participants who may be clinically extremely vulnerable e.g., health research in hospitals, care homes, etc.
- For doorstep and in-street environments without any UK Government, corporate or health-based restrictions, etc. research practitioners should wear facial coverings and adhere to social distancing when undertaking data collection. Only in exceptional circumstances should facial coverings not be used.
Data Collection in Viewing Facilities
- For data collection undertaken in viewing facilities research practitioners must continue to use facial coverings and social distancing in areas where members of the public may reside e.g., receptions, waiting rooms, common areas, etc.
- Facilities must continue to provide clear guidance on how to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 to people when they arrive at their facilities. For example, with on-site signage and visual aids.
- Facilities must take steps to improve ventilation in viewing facilities e.g., fully or partially opening windows, using mechanical ventilation systems, air vents and opening doors whilst continuing to protect participant confidentiality during data collection.
- If research practitioners wish to undertake data collection in viewing facilities without social distancing and facial coverings, they must ensure that participants are recruited on this basis, i.e., informed that the exercise will be without social distancing and facial coverings, and that this is allowable in the country where the data collection is being undertaken. Similarly, if data collection is to be with facial coverings and social distancing participants must be recruited on this basis.
- Once data collection is due to start, research practitioners must undertake agile risk assessments before facial coverings are removed and social distancing is no longer in place. Only if all participants and research practitioners are willing and agree can data collection in viewing facilities be undertaken without social distancing and facial coverings.
The Covid-19 vaccination and employment issue is complex. In the UK having a Covid-19 vaccination is not mandatory. An employer may make it a condition of employment to require someone who is not vaccinated to declare they have not been Covid-19 vaccinated and to provide a reason. However, to exclude or treat an individual differently on the criteria of whether or not they have had a Covid-19 vaccine could be defined as discriminating against such individuals.
There are a number of reasons why individuals may not be vaccinated including access to the vaccines, philosophical beliefs, religious beliefs, health and medical conditions including pregnancy and allergies to vaccine ingredients.
In the UK the Equality Act lists a number of protected characteristics and this includes religious or ethical beliefs, disabilities (which can include allergic issues) and also those who are pregnant. Depending on the reason for not taking the vaccine could determine whether such legislation could apply.
There are also a number of issues to consider with regards to mandatory vaccination. Employers cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees unless they work in a sector (such as care homes) where a legal requirement has been introduced. Conversely, employers do have responsibilities to protect workers and employees.
A number of organisations have produced employer guidance on vaccinations and we recommend these are reviewed if and when organisations are determining their corporate approach to vaccines:
- UK Government Guidance: COVID-19 vaccination: guide for employers
- CIPD: Preparing for the Covid-19 vaccination: guide for employers
- ACAS: Getting the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine for work
- Lewis Silkin (HR lawyers): Coronavirus vaccination – FAQs for employers
In-home data collection
The Standards team are also working on guidance for the resumption of in-home face-to-face data collection. The current plan is for in-home to resume from September assuming that the UK Government continues with its revised timetable for easing restrictions. This approach ensures that we have extra time to see how the post-easing of restrictions performs before committing to a full roll-out of in-home face-to-face data collection.
The MRS has issued new guidance for areas affected by Covid-19 variant. The following is MRS’ interpretation of the new UK Government advice for parts of the UK. This UK Government advice applies to the areas where the Covid-19 variant is spreading fastest, which are currently:
- Bedford Borough Council
- Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council
- Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council
- Burnley Borough Council
- Kirklees Council
- Leicester City Council
- London Borough of Hounslow
- North Tyneside Council
The MRS interpretation of this advice applies to these and any new areas which are added to this list. The UK Government has stated that, where possible, in the areas affected individuals should try to:
- Meet outside rather than inside where possible.
- Keep 2 metres apart from people that they don’t live with (unless they have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family individuals don’t live with.
- Minimise travel in and out of affected areas.
The current MRS guidance (issued on 12 April 2021) contains the following requirements:
- Research practitioners must undertake a risk assessment of any proposed data collection exercise before beginning any face-to-face data collection.
- Research practitioners must consider the amount of travel required to undertake face-to-face data collection and introduce approaches which minimise the amount of travel required e.g., localise data collection to specific areas.
- Research practitioners should limit travel for face-to-face data collection purposes unless absolutely necessary for the purposes of the project.
- Research practitioners when travelling for face-to-face data collection projects, must plan ahead or avoid busy public transport times and routes.
- Research practitioners must follow any lockdown travel restrictions which apply to each of the UK’s four nations.
- Research practitioners must check whether additional restrictions apply in their area.
In light of the new UK Government advice, when applying the MRS requirements practitioners must consider the following:
- The results of any project risk assessments (including those projects already underway) and determine whether the risk mitigations associated with any face-to-face data collection activities are sufficient in light of the new conditions in the affected areas.
- Limiting the amount of travel which research practitioners need to undertake for any planned face-to-face data collection activities in affected areas.
- Only using research practitioners from affected areas to undertake face-to-face data collection activities in the affected areas.
The MRS Standards Team are continuing to review and update the MRS guidance as and when required. The existing MRS Covid-19 guidance documents continue to apply, supplementing the UK Government guidance:
- Undertaking Safe Face to Face Data Collection
- Undertaking Safe Face to Face Mystery Shopping
- Guidance on Facilities Used for Face-to-Face Data Collection
- Guidance Interpreting Scotland’s Level System
Following the government’s announcement regarding plans to lift restrictions, The Market Research Society has updated its guidance on face-to-face data collection in England.
MRS has updated the suite of MRS guidance interpreting the implications for face-to-face data collection following the announcement of the new restrictions for England.
The new MRS guidance sets out the conditions for limited resumption of face-to-face data collection activities as England cautiously plans to lift restrictions via the 4-step plan issued by the UK Government on 22 February.
To enable practitioners to prepare for the change, the guidance is being issued prior to its application date, which will be from 29 March 2021. Until that date the MRS lockdown guidance, issued on 6 January 2021, will continue to apply.
The fundamental principle underlying this guidance is that face-to-face data collection will only be undertaken when no other alternative methodology can be used. This principle should be followed until the working from home and social contact messaging is reviewed as part of step 4 of the UK Government’s roadmap. Please note, the MRS guidance may change before 29 March 2021 if government advice regarding the proposed 4-step plan is modified.
Some points to note from the new guidance:
- Research practitioners must only undertake face-to-face data collection which cannot be achieved using other methods.
- Research practitioners must undertake risk assessments of any proposed face-to-face data collection exercise before beginning the activity.
- When face-to-face data collection is undertaken it can only be in those locations that remain open as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and in locations allowed within the MRS guidance.
- In-home face-to-face data collection continues to be restricted to on the doorstep only.
- Research practitioners have a responsibility to protect vulnerable groups, participants and the reputation of the profession.
The three core documents covering face-to-face data collection, face-to-face mystery shopping and face-to-face data collection in facilities have all been updated with a status update across the four nations and detailed guidance for England, in readiness for 29 March, and are available via the following links:
- Undertaking Safe Face-to-Face Data Collection
- Undertaking Safe Face-to-Face Mystery Shopping
- Facilities Used for Face-to-Face Data Collection
The MRS Standards Team will continue to review and update the MRS guidance as and when required.