Updated 12th April 2021.
We have been asked by our affiliated clubs to provide some guidelines for safe HEMA practice during Covid-19. Since there is no UK or home-country national governing body for HEMA to provide such guidelines, we hope that this effort will help.
Please note that the following guidelines are only our best understanding of the rules given by the government and by the devolved powers. The guidance and rules change on a regular basis and you absolutely should do your due diligence before taking any steps to reopen.
If you can’t do it safely, then you can’t do it at all right now.
You must put the safety of all your participants first when making any decisions.
It is the understanding of our insurers that the club leaders and instructors are legally liable for any Covid cases (and resultant damages) that come from a not-safe-enough training session, and our insurers will not cover any such situations.
Everyone who attends a training session is part of the solution to the problem. Everyone needs to act safely and work to keep everyone else safe. It is not just the instructors who have to keep students safe, students must also keep each other (and the instructors) safe, and this should be communicated thoroughly to every single participant.
Before the session
Consider the venue
Whether indoors or outdoors, you need to have the appropriate permissions to use the venue.
You should also choose a venue that is suitable for your needs (for example, considering space requirements, terrain underfoot, weather, etc.) and you should ensure that the venue remains suitable for your needs.
Perform the risk assessments
You need to keep up with your duty of care to your participants. This means maintaining and following all your usual risk assessments in addition to the new Covid-related risk assessments.
You should have a risk assessment for the venue, to make sure that it is safe to use for your purposes.
You should have a risk assessment for your activity, to make sure that all risks for participants (and non-participants where appropriate) are mitigated sufficiently.
You should have a Covid risk assessment, to make sure that conducting your activities right now will not put anyone at risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
These risk assessments must all remain up to date and you should return to them regularly to make sure that they remain relevant and that you are implementing them fully and correctly.
Please refer to our page with information about risk assessments if you would like to read more about this.
Consider a booking system
You should consider how many participants you can accommodate safely in this venue for this activity. The number should be limited by social distancing and ventilation to reduce the likelihood of any virus transmission.
If you have to apply a maximum cap on the number of participants, then you need to have a system for selecting who may attend the sessions. Consider if a booking system is appropriate and implement one if you think that you may need to turn people away due to space and limitations. Alternatively, if you do need to limit participation but do not wish to implement a booking system, you will need to find another similar sort of solution so that people are not leaving home and travelling to the activity only to be turned away at the door.
Please put effort into how you communicate with your participants.
Make sure everyone knows what the rules are and what to expect before they leave home to come to the session. There should be no sudden surprises.
Make sure everyone knows that they have a duty to stay at home if they suspect they might have Covid. They should not come to the session even just to watch. If this means you need to refund their booking fee, or provide credit for the next session, you should have a plan and policy in your club for how to handle these situations.
Remember about memberships and insurances
Even though you might not be sparring or even doing any contact drills at all, you should make sure that all your participants have their membership and insurances up to date. Although the insurers may not cover a Covid transmission, you still need the appropriate public liability and instructor insurances so that what training you can do is covered correctly.
During the session
Maintain social distancing
During your activity, everyone should remain appropriately socially distanced. Remaining 2 metres apart is the rule across most of the UK, although England does allow “1 metre plus”, but at least 2 metres is probably a good goal to aim for.
If group members start breaching social distancing rules, you need to remind them to keep their distance.
Be aware that social distancing needs to be followed not only in the training hall, but at entrances and exits, in hallways and at toilet areas. If appropriate, liaise with your venue manager to discuss what arrangements can be put in place at the venue level to manage traffic outwith the training hall.
Where should people put their bags?
Bags should probably go around the sides of the hall, spaced out so that people will not be breathing on each other when going to their bags to get their water bottles or when tidying up at the end of the session.
Wearing face masks and face coverings
You must consider whether face masks and face coverings are appropriate for your participants, and make sure everyone knows the rules.
Recent DCMS guidance now says that:
People are not required to wear face coverings while taking part in sport and physical activity. All forms of face coverings may restrict breathing efficiency and should not be used during exercise except on specific advice from a physician.
Visitors are not required to wear face coverings in sport facilities, however they should be encouraged to wear face coverings in enclosed public areas when not engaging in sport or physical activity.(source)
However, if you have good reasons to rule otherwise, then you should be forthcoming to your participants to make sure everyone understands the situation and rules for participating.
Consider what equipment you might lend to newcomers, or what equipment might be shared between participants. Is there any way to do this safely, without risking transmission of the virus? If not, then you should not be lending or sharing the equipment.
This might mean that you have to limit participation by newcomers if there is no equipment that you can lend; if so, you should make sure to communicate this clearly to potential attendees.
Keep attendance records and contact details
You should make sure to keep accurate attendance records of the participants at every session. This is no different from your normal obligations to fulfil the insurance requirements in any case!
You must also record contact details for every single person who attends, so that you can provide the necessary details to the NHS Test and Trace programme in England, or the NHS Test and Protect scheme in Scotland, or the appropriate scheme in your part of the UK.
Telephone numbers seem to be preferred compared to email addresses for the NHS schemes, so you may need to update your contact details for participants if you only usually collect email addresses or another form of contact detail.
You must still observe the GDPR with these records.
Contact and non-contact training
You must follow the government’s regulations with regard to whether or not “contact sports” are allowed in your situation. This is a devolved matter, so each part of the UK will have different rules about where contact training may be permitted.
If “contact sports” are not yet permitted in your training environment and area, then you should not do any training that involves making contact with other participants. This removes sparring as an option completely, along with paired drills where people land touches or hits on each other. It does not matter how gentle or light contact the contact is – if contact sports are still forbidden, then there is no wiggle room to include contact training in your sessions and you must restrict your sessions to non-contact exercises only.
After the session
Cleaning or quarantining equipment
If any equipment has been lent or shared, you must make sure that it is appropriately safe and clean before the next use. This includes any bags or boxes used to move the equipment.
If you are only training once a week then “quarantining” the equipment between uses may be sufficient, since the virus should probably die if there is anything on the surface of the equipment. If you have any doubts at all about this, then you should perform appropriate cleaning as well.
Sharing contact details with the NHS
If you are contacted by the NHS about a possible Covid case, you should share the necessary contact details. Be aware of scams, be careful with people’s personal information, but you do also have a duty to help the NHS identify potential transmissions and sources where possible.
It is quite possible to engage in training sessions right now in a safe and productive fashion. However, we must all take steps to ensure that the sessions remain safe, and we must not accept any behaviour or choices that puts people at risk.
Many of the choices you make will depend greatly on the circumstances of your club: where you are located, your venue, how many people you might expect to attend, what sort of club culture you had before lockdown, what you are hoping to achieve with reopening, and how much your participants rely on borrowing or sharing equipment, etc.
Consider any guidelines produced by the national governing bodies for any other sports that are related to the HEMA discipline that you practise. For example, you might consider looking at the documents by British Fencing, British Wrestling, or GB Boxing, amongst others.
If you follow these guidelines and maintain compliance with all relevant government regulations, then you are probably doing some good work.