Back to business? How to protect clinically vulnerable staff

Paul Logan

May 11 2021

As an employer, you need to protect all workers against the risk of COVID-19. 

But some employees face a greater risk than others. And as lockdown lifts, they could be anxious about returning to ‘normal’. 

Here’s how to protect clinically vulnerable staff and boost back-to-work confidence…  

Identify your high-risk staff  

As part of your COVID-19 risk assessment, you need to set out how you’ll protect your vulnerable employees at work. Higher risk groups currently include:  

  • Older males 
  • People with a high body mass index (BMI) 
  • People with underlying health conditions, like diabetes 
  • Pregnant employees 

Of course, you still need to plan how to protect everyone from COVID-19 – but you also need to carry out an individual assessment for your vulnerable staff.  

Because by identifying those most at risk, it’s easier to make informed decisions to support your workforce.  

For example, instead of asking a vulnerable employee to cover a busy shop floor shift, you could offer them stockroom duties instead. Whilst COVID-19 can affect anyone, you have a bigger duty to protect your staff who are most vulnerable.  

Follow work-from-home guidance if you can 

The current government advice is to work from home “where possible”. So if your staff can work from home, you should let them continue. 

If you can’t allow your entire team to work from home, give priority to your high-risk staff. This could mean giving vulnerable workers ‘remote’ tasks, while other employees return to the workplace.   

Plan your control measures  

After identifying your vulnerable staff, consider any hazards that could put them at risk of catching coronavirus. So if you manage a busy pub, hazards might include: 

  • Handling objects and money touched by others 
  • Face-to-face contact with members of the public 
  • Standing near other staff behind a crowded bar 

While these hazards are part and parcel of working in hospitality, there are ways you can remove the risk. 

This might mean changing the duties of your vulnerable staff. For example, you could give high-risk staff tasks they can carry out from home. Or if that’s not possible, see if you can offer tasks that don’t involve close contact.   

And if you can’t completely remove the risk, plan how you could reduce it instead – like allowing vulnerable staff to cover your quietest shifts.

On top of this, you need to add control measures that reduces the risk for everyone at work. This means making significant changes around your premises, like: 

  • Cleaning more frequently, focusing on regular ‘touch points’ 
  • Wearing face masks around the workplace 
  • Placing sanitisation pumps near entrances and exits 
  • Increasing ventilation throughout the premises 
  • Social distancing measures, like following a one-way system 
  • Only taking card payments instead of handling cash  

While these control measures benefit your entire team, they’re essential for helping vulnerable staff feel safer at work.  

Share your risk assessment  

So now you’ve identified COVID hazards and made plans to combat them, you’ve completed your risk assessment. If you have less than five staff, you don’t need to write anything down – but doing this helps you keep up with any measures you’ve put in place.   

Once you’ve completed your risk assessment, share it with your team and ask for their input. This gives vulnerable staff the chance to raise any concerns or make additional requests.  

And if an employee does come to you with concerns, ask how you can make them feel safer. They might share ideas you may not have considered. 

Plus, offering additional training or learning materials will help staff follow the measures you’ve put in place.  

Take extra steps for extremely clinically vulnerable staff  

Around 4 million people had to shield at home at the beginning of the pandemic. These people are ‘extremely’ clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 – and still need to take extra caution. And while extremely vulnerable staff can now return to work, you should be flexible around their needs.  

The NHS advises clinically vulnerable people to “work from home if possible”. So if your employee had to shield during lockdown, allow them to work from home if they can – even when other staff return to work.  

This might mean temporarily changing your employee’s duties so they can work from home.  

If that’s not possible, you can ask them to return to work. But if that’s the case, the NHS website says you should make “suitable arrangements” to support clinically vulnerable staff. For example, you could tweak their shifts to help them avoid busy transport at peak travel times.  

Be vigilant about COVID in the workplace 

As restrictions loosen, it can feel natural to slip back into a pre-pandemic routine.  

But keeping up with your COVID-secure measures helps vulnerable staff feel more at ease. And most importantly, it keeps them safe.  

From workplace testing to thorough cleaning, don’t forget to stick to a regular routine. And if you spot anyone displaying any COVID-like symptoms, ask them to take a test and isolate at home. 

For expert support as you return to work, our health & safety consultants are available 24/7 on 0800 917 0771

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