With the UK government starting to lift lockdown measures, you may now look to return your employees to your premises.
However, there are certain steps you must follow before doing so. One of which is a COVID-19 risk assessment—this is a mandatory procedure under the current UK government guidelines.
You can also read the below health & safety guide on how to analyse your working environment, which’ll help you safely return staff to work.
How to assess COVID-19 risks at work
Under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, you have a duty of care to your employees.
So, it’s important to address the risks coronavirus presents to your business, customers, and any visitors attending on-site.
You can’t simply return your employees to work as if everything is now normal. You have to take steps to limit the risks of the infection spreading.
Your first step is to appoint an assessor. They should take into consideration which employees in your business will undertake certain risk assessment duties.
So, for how to assess risks at work during coronavirus pandemic you should consider:
- What an employee will check—and how.
- Who’ll be involved. For example, supervisors, managers etc. But include a selection of employees to get buy in from all levels.
- Why they’re undertaking this task.
- What they’re using to complete the task.
These steps will help you to determine the approach you’ll need to take ahead of the assessment.
Once complete, you can start the process. But it’s important to remember that coronavirus is a biohazard, so you can’t eliminate its dangers.
However, you can analyse your working environment to limit the chances of the infection spreading.
How to carry out COVID-19 risk assessment at work
A common question from employers right now is, “Do I have to review existing risk assessment policies, too?” Yes, you should evaluate the previous one. And then decide if what you have in place is adequate to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, it likely won’t offer sufficient safety standards. So, you’ll need to carry out another one with the present UK government guidelines in mind.
The purpose of your assessment is to determine the following:
- Any hazards that could lead to infection.
- The employee who could face infection—or member of the public.
- What you can do to control risks—or remove them from your business.
The UK government’s COVID-19 secure guidelines aim to make your working environment safe, which the risk assessment will determine.
Before your employees return to your premises, you’ll need to complete it. And then take any “reasonably practicable” steps to reduce the risks of this biological hazard.
So, you can follow the below four steps as part of a thorough COVID-19 risk assessment for a safe return to work.
1. Identifying business risks
The initial stages will take an overview of your working environment and what hazards staff face.
You can complete this with a simple process of documenting issues you come across, given the nature of the coronavirus pandemic—mainly, whether you can manage social distancing.
This depends on the nature of your business and industry, but the emphasis is very much on social distancing (the two-metre rule).
You should consider which areas of your business may pose a threat to health & safety. And what you can do to control the issues—we discuss this in step four.
2. Identifying employee hazards
With the above business risks in mind, consider how these affect your employees.
You’ll have to do this on an individual by individual basis and think about the adjustments you can make to keep staff safe.
You can consult with your workforce during this time about any requests they have. But it’ll depend on the type of business you have and the industry you’re in.
There’s no one size fits all fix, but by identifying risks in your specific environment you can then establish the suitable measures to control the chance of infection.
This may include allowing them to work from home, if they can continue to do so.
You must also identify which employees with underlying health issues, or BAME, to allow them to either work from home—or furlough.
Anyone with moderate or high-risk health status should not work, or do so remotely.
3. Identifying the risks to “others”
Although potentially a vague term, by “others” we’re referring to:
- Delivery drivers.
- Other visitors to your business premises.
- Members of the public.
So, assessing risks to staff and customers are equally important—that’s especially true if staff have customer-facing roles.
You’ll need to consider how any visitor to your business interacts with your working environment.
This may result in the need for protective barriers and/or a limit on the number of individuals in a certain area at any time.
Ultimately, your assessment will discover where “others” may come across risks—and you should act to limit that where possible.
4. Using control measures
Once you’re aware of the issues around your workplace, you can think of the ways in which you can limit the virus’ risks.
For most businesses, the steps that follow will include:
- Enforcing social distancing.
- Utilising protective measures (such as personal protective equipment—PPE).
- Enforcing thorough cleaning and hygiene measures.
- Allowing employees who can work from home to do so.
Your risk assessment will also identify high and moderate risk employees (those with underlying health conditions or BAME).
You can then take steps to either let them work remotely, or take the time off entirely
Publishing your findings
First, communicate to employees your findings—this is the top requirement of becoming a COVID-19 secure workplace (in the UK).
You need to directly communicate these measures to the employees, not just make them available. Either in a video call or via email with a copy so they can review and see what must be done.
Then there’s a legal requirement to publish the findings of your assessment on your website.
That is mandatory if you have over 50 employees. But even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to make your findings available online all the same.
Remember, it’s essential to act on the findings you publish.
The key to limiting infection is to act on your discoveries and create a safe working environment.
You should also review your assessment on a regular basis. This is particularly important as the UK government introduces new employment laws.
You may need to react quickly to changes—and post these updates on your website, too.
Updating trade unions with details
Another common employer question right now is, “Do I have to consult with workers and trade union for COVID-19 risk assessment?” Yes, you should consult all your findings with a trade union representative.
If there isn’t one, employees will elect a representative to speak on their behalf.
It’s important to engage all of your employees in an open discussion about risk assessment. Their feedback may prove crucial in how your business operates after reopening.
You should listen to all feedback and consider it carefully, even if you receive criticisms.
After all, you need to ensure your workplace is as secure as possible. If you fail to manage your reopening correctly, it could result in an outbreak of coronavirus.
Updating your infection control policy
This is a requirement in every business, so you should have one already.
But if you’re wondering, “Do I have to setup a new infection control policy?” Yes, you’ll need to amend it to take into consideration the coronavirus pandemic.
As a biological hazard, it presents unique issues your business hasn’t had preparation for.
Each policy will vary across businesses and industries. For example, if you’re an office-based business you’ll need a different approach than to a dentist.
However, the goal is still the same—to remove, reduce, contain, or manage any situation that may prove infectious.
As part of your risk assessment, you can identify the steps you’ll need to take for infection control. You can make this part of your coronavirus assessment, but you can look to:
- Analyse your workplace and identify risks and hazards.
- Consider the hazards employees or visitors may bring into your business.
- Make a decision on who may face infection—evaluate the risks to certain employees and “others”.
- Train employees about changes.
- Introduce rigorous new cleaning procedures.
- Put in place control measures, such as social distancing regulations and through introducing PPE.
- Document your findings.
- Make regular reassessments to ensure you’re controlling the risk of coronavirus infection in your business.
As there’s an increase in the need for hygiene measures, you should look to educate and train staff on certain responsibilities.
Such as maintaining a two-metre gap, as well as washing their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds.
You must also take steps to clean your working environment thoroughly—and on a more regular basis than you normally would.
All of which you should document in your infection control policy.
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