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Covid 19 risk assessments and returning to work

Written by:
Paula Coster
BA (Hons), MSc.
Associate Member CIEHF
Updated 5 June 2020

At last businesses can plan to reopen premises and take tentative steps towards normal. To do so safely and within the law, employers must ensure safeguards are in place to protect the health and safety of employees, and of clients and visitors.

Although current government advice is to continue to work from home when possible, for millions of us, a return to the office is imminent if we stick to the ‘roadmap’.  Where premises are planning to reopen, this must be done carefully and within Covid secure guidelines.

Spot checks

The Health and Safety Executive will be carrying out spot checks on businesses in all areas and of all types and size to check the measures in place and are in line with the current government guidance. Failure puts you at risk of fines, closure and prosecution.

Everyone’s different

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when assessing the potential risks of reopening. All  busineses will have different risks of exposure to Covid-19 so take an individualised approach. This is why every employer needs to make their own Covid-19 risk assessment a top priority. The risk assessment will help the decision making and planning process by looking at the factors most relevant to your own workplace.

What needs to go in a Covid-19 assessment?

Commonplace hazards a risk assessor will consider might include:

  • Feasibility of social distancing in with your current office layout and will strategies such as cohorting or staggered shifts help?
  • Any procedures taken when staff arrive at work. For instance, providing areas to store personal belongings away from work areas.
  • Management of interviews and meetings.
  • Housekeeping arrangements, maybe including deep cleaning before your reopening if your premises have been closed.
  • Any measures staff are expected to take to help minimise spread.
  • Covid secure arrangements for visitors, first aiders and fire emergencies.
  • Use of PPE where appropriate.
  • Ventilation.  A good supply of fresh air and good ventilation reduces the chance of spreading Covid.

And much more. You can read more here.

Can I use my existing risk assessment?

Your Covid-19 risk assessment can be a separate document or you can update your existing workplace risk assessment to include your Covid secure measures. However you choose, you must keep up to date with the changing guidance and update your risk assessment accordingly.

Consulting with your staff

Ensuring your workplace is Covid secure should be a collaborative effort requiring a team approach with representatives across the organisation. For instance, your Covid response team might include a H&S supervisor, HR, Facilities Management, and staff or a staff representative.

You will need to consult with your staff to keep your workplace Covid secure.  Your staff can give you great insight. Ask them whereabouts within your workplace it is difficult to socially distance, which tasks cannot be completed whilst distancing, and are there times of the day where bottlenecks occur is certain areas?

Ask your staff what they would like you to do and what changes they would like made.

A return to work plan

Once you have completed your Covid-19 risk assessment, you should develop your return to work policy based on your findings. This should include a clear plan for returning to work. Include your intended ways to communicate new measures to staff, and how you will measure cooperation and compliance with new rules.

Keep your staff informed. You should explain the changes you are making and explain why. You must also give workers a chance to express their own concerns; some may be feeling nervous;  CIPD research found 4 in 10 people are anxious about returning to work.  Listening to what they say and agreeing actions together will ensure they feel valued and involved in the decision making process; essential if everyone is to cooperate.

Some groups of people are more at risk, of being infected or of having a bad outcome. Higher risk groups include:

  • Older males
  • Those with a high BMI
  • People with certain health conditions such as diabetes
  • Black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds

Although there is no expectation of additional controls to protect higher risk individuals, your existing controls are only likely to succeed if everyone cooperates with them. Think about how you can engage your staff and  get everyone on board.

Current advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people

Employers should talk to clinically extremely vulnerable workers about their working arrangements and take every possible step to enable them to work from home. Consulting with workers will help you decide if this is possible and practicable.

Where clinically extremely vulnerable workers are returning to their workplace, employers should explain the measures being taken to ensure their workplace is COVID-secure.

People working from home

You are still responsible for the health and safety of any of your staff who are working from home.   Things to consider in this part of your risk assessment will be:

  • How to keep in touch with people who WFH (work from home) and monitor their wellbeing
  • Do they have suitable DSE (display screen enquipment) and are they using it safely
  • What emergency arrangments are in place?

Read more about risk assessments for homeworkers here.

Need more help?

Still have questions abouth your Covid-19 risk assessments? Read more about how we can help 

Complete the box below for our free home working risk assessment checklist.

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