Speak to our legal team
Find out how to contact our legal team and what to expect
Below we provide guidance on COVID-19 restrictions in relation to places of worship. We will be updating this page as and when new guidance becomes available.
An employer has a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. To do so, an employer must carry out a risk assessment, in line with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance. Note that HSE guidance applies in Great Britain, but Northern Ireland has a separate health and safety body.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides protections for individuals raising or acting on health and safety concerns. The ISM will seek to enforce these provisions on behalf of members.
No individual musician, whatever their relationship with a place of worship, should be penalised or suffer any detriment for raising or acting on health and safety concerns. This means that your employer must identify and assess the risk – specifically deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be; put in place measures to control the risk; record the findings and review the control making any changes if necessary.
Your employer must consult with you, your elected representatives, or trade unions on health and safety matters.
Specifically, they should consult you on how the risk assessment has been or will be carried out, the outcome, and what measures will be put in place to prevent the risk of infection during your work.
Ask your employer to tell you what steps have been taken to comply with Health and Safety legislation and the most recent guidance issued by the government on working safely during Coronavirus.
You should also ask your employer:
Updated 30 September 2020
The government have published guidance on the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic. This was updated on 24 September following restrictions brought in my by the government on 22 September.
The government acknowledges the importance of communal worship to communities, but also notes that their communal nature means they are ‘particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.’
If you live in an area that is experiencing a local COVID-19 outbreak and where local restrictions have been imposed, different guidance and legislation will apply.
Please consult the local restrictions guidance to see if any restrictions are in place in your area. There are some exemptions from the ‘rule of six’ for places of worship, but the guidance states that, ‘Whilst engaging in an activity in the place of worship or surrounding grounds, all parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times, even within a group of 6.’
Specific advice on music and worship
The government guidance on music making as part of worship and religious ceremonies states that:
For certain events, like weddings, funerals and life cycle celebrations (any ceremony that is self-contained rather than general worship) there is a capacity limit. From 28 September, weddings must have no more than 15 people. For funerals the limit is 30 Life cycle events will no longer be exempt from wider rules around gatherings in groups larger than 6.
For general communal worship, capacity should be decided by the venue management on basis of their risk assessment.
Large receptions or parties should not take place after life cycle events. Small wedding receptions (up to 15 people at a sit-down dinner) can now take place.
Social distancing guidelines should be adhered to. This means keeping a distance of 2 metres between households, or 1 metre with other actions taken to reduce the risk of transmission.
Be aware the place of worship should consider how they may alter services to reduce the risk of transmission, with measures like changing seating, staggering arrival times and directing the flow of people in the venue.
Face coverings (including masks) are required by law to be worn in places of worship. Other measures such as social distancing, minimising time spent in contact, and increasing hand and surface washing should be maintained.
Places of worship have been asked to help facilitate the test and trace process by collecting contact details of all those in attendance at a place of worship. Data protection law means this is a voluntary process and consents should be asked for. If data is collected, it should be destroyed after 21 days. Places of Worship should also display official NHS QR code posters so that those with the app can scan in if they choose.
Updated 30 September 2020
Religious services in places of worship, indoor marriage and civil partnerships have all now resumed. Numbers attending indoor ceremonies and post-ceremony celebrations will be determined by the venue on a risk assessed basis, taking account of the individual circumstances of each venue and adhering to all relevant public health advice and industry guidance. Singing is currently allowed in Northern Ireland, although the higher risk of transmission is acknowledged, and it is suggested this may be with socially distanced choirs at low volumes.
Advice from the executive on the reopening of places of worship as written to faith leaders in the country is available in this letter.
Updated 30 September 2020
Places of worship in Scotland are now open for a wide range of forms of worship, including congregational services, communal prayer, and religious life event ceremonies, such as baptisms, christenings, and coming-of-age ceremonies.
Funeral services and marriage ceremonies are subject to their own set of regulations. For weddings, it is advised that guest numbers 'should ideally be kept to a minimum as far as possible' with a suggestion of 20 as a maximum, venue permitting, which includes musicians. Funerals may have up to 20. In both cases social distancing restrictions apply.
Each place of worship should make their own judgement of if and how to open safely. Decisions on capacity and measures in place will be made by those who run the place of worship where you are working, in line with the range of measures outlined in the full guidance, such as social distancing, hand sanitisation and aiding contact tracing. For general communal worship, the maximum able to attend, even in the largest places of worship, is 50 people.
Those attending places of worship should be aware that face coverings must be worn.
The advice makes it clear that places of worship should be considering their responsibilities as employers. You can read more about guidance on returning to work to see measures employers should have in place. If you are an ISM member and have concerns over your work in this setting, please contact our legal team.
The advice states: ‘Congregational singing, both indoors and outdoors, should continue to be avoided at this time. Scientific studies indicate that it is the cumulative aerosol transmission from both those performing in and attending events that involve singing and the playing of wind and brass instruments, that is likely to create risk.’
However there are some exceptions to this rule under the performing arts guidelines with different rules applying for professionals and non-professionals.
Where singing or chanting is essential to a specific act of worship, plexi-glass may be used. Other instruments, such as organs, may be played.
Updated 22 October 2020
During the period of the 'fire-break' in Wales (from 6pm on Friday 23 October to Monday 9 November), places of worship will be closed to the public except for weddings and civil partnerships. Receptions for weddings and civil partnerships are prohibited.
Please contact our legal team on [email protected] if you have any problems arising from the fire-break.
The Welsh government have published guidance on reopening places of worship.
If you are an ISM member, you can contact our legal team on [email protected] with any concerns or questions. Please include any relevant documents pertaining to your enquiry.