COVID-19 risk assessment at work

11 June 2020

With lockdown measures starting to lift across Ireland, as an employer you may now be looking to return to work.

However, to do so you must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment of your working environment—for health & safety purposes. That’s regardless of the type of business you have, or the number of employees.

We’re here to help—you can contact us on 0818 923 923 for immediate support.

But you can also read this guide, which provides details on the current Irish regulations. And how you can return your workforce, safely, back to their roles.

Your duty of care during coronavirus

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act (the 2005 Act), and the Return to Work Safely Protocol, you must carry out coronavirus risk assessments.

It’s essential to do so, otherwise staff may return to an unsafe environment. And one that could lead to the virus spreading throughout your business—and potentially to customers, clients, and visitors.

So, if you undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment for a safe return to work you can significantly reduce the risks of infection.

You’ll have carried out a risk assessment in your workplace previously. For coronavirus, the principle is the same—analyse your workplace to consider risk.

However, with this being a biohazard it’s an unprecedented type of assessment.

And one that’ll take into consideration the need for social distancing and, where necessary, other protective measures.

How to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment at work

It’s, essentially, a process where you’re assessing risks to staff and customers (as well as clients and visitors).

The guiding principle of the Return to Work Safely Protocol is collaboration between employers and employees in making sure the virus is suppressed in the workplace. The measures set out in the Return to Work Safely Protocol are mandatory for all businesses.

But if you’re wondering, “Do I have to review existing risk assessment policies, too?” Well, yes—to take into account how coronavirus may affect every aspect of your business.

So, you should begin your risk assessment with the demands of the current world crisis. How to assess COVID-19 risks at work will depend on the nature of your business and the industry you’re in.

For example, if your employees have customer-facing roles. Or if your workforce is in a busy office environment.

But for how to assess risks at work during the coronavirus pandemic, you can complete the following risk assessment process for coronavirus:

  • Identify business hazards: Analyse your business and its working environment. Consider the risks each area presents to employees, customers, or visitors. Make extensive notes on how to maintain social distancing and whether it’s a suitable workplace.
  • Analyse potential risks: Details the possibility of coronavirus spreading in the areas around your business. And think of the nature of each employee’s job—you’ll likely need to adapt your business to put in place preventative safety measures.
  • Consider others: You’ll need to analyse the risks others face—such as customers, visitors, delivery drivers etc. As well as how they interact with your employees.
  • Put in place control measures: This is the most important step. With your findings, you’ll need to act on risk areas and provide a two-metre rule. Along with higher hygiene standards.

It’s also important to act on your findings. If you complete your assessment and then don’t go beyond that stage, your workplace may become unsafe.

So, enforce your new safety procedures—and train employees about what they have to do upon arriving at your premises.

You should also alert customers and other individuals about the procedures you have in place.

Risk assessment for employees with underlying health conditions

If your employees are high or moderate risk (as in, they have health conditions) then you should allow them to work remotely. That’s when possible. Employees with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.

However, your workplace assessment can take into consideration their requirements.

The risk assessment procedure for COVID-19 can address where you can take steps to support staff back into the workplace. You can:

  • Analyse your workforce to determine which members of staff are vulnerable.
  • Consider where, around your business, this may affect them adversely.
  • Look to put in place protective measures, such as appropriate PPE—or Perspex barriers.
  • Consider whether you can redeploy the staff member into a different role, should the risk be too great for them.

If the employee can work from home, you can also allow them to remote work for you. This is a specific requirement under the government’s Roadmap to Reopening advice.

Updating your infection control policy

Every workplace requires this policy—whether your business is a restaurant, open office, or shop. The standard precautions for it are:

  1. Hand hygiene.
  2. Personal protective equipment (PPE).
  3. Needlestick and sharps injury prevention.
  4. Cleaning and disinfection.
  5. Respiratory hygiene (cough etiquette etc.)
  6. Waste disposal.
  7. Safe injection practices.

So, another common employer question right now is, “Do I have to set up a new infection control policy?” Yes. Due to the nature of coronavirus, you’ll need to review your existing policy and make amends to it as needed.

Your risk assessment will raise the relevant issues. For most businesses, there’s an increase in the need for hand hygiene.

As a result, you should train employees to wash their hands more regularly—and for 20 seconds.

Others steps you may need to take include introducing PPE, cleaning your business more regularly, and providing protective barriers between staff.

Consulting with your employees

Under the Return to Work Safely Protocol, it’s mandatory to appoint a Lead Worker Representative who will be your liaison with staff. It’s important to include staff feedback in your risk assessment as they know exactly what risks are likely to arise in their particular work.

It’s your duty to make sure employees receive training and details about your risk assessment.

You should allow for a two-way dialogue with them, where they can make suggestions and request changes. You should listen to their feedback and make any reasonable adjustments—as you see fit.

Due to the stressful nature of recent events, some employees may even ask to not return to work.

You should listen to each request carefully—and then consider alternative options. Such as:

As for other types of workers, you may ask, “Do I have to consult with workers and trade union for COVID-19 risk assessment?” Yes, if your organisation is unionised and the employees have a union representative, you should engage with the representative selected by recognised trade unions.

In a non-unionised workplace, then you can consult with the lead worker representative.

Need our help?

We can help you with your health & safety requirements during the pandemic. Get in touch for quick answers to your questions: 0818 923 923.

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