Following the latest announcement from the Prime Minister and, with increased talk of how businesses will come out of lockdown, it is important that companies consider how they will keep their employees safe.
Many employers have already assessed the risks and implemented a number of changes and control measures (safe guards) to protect their employees and customers, but there undoubtedly will be many that have not.
With other priorities, such as financial stability / profitability and other mounting pressures, it will be easy for employers to give insufficient time, thought, or resources to the safety of their workforce.
This is why national bodies, such as the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) are offering specific guidance for employers and, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) are calling for the government to take the necessary steps to ensure employers satisfactorily address the safety of working people. Both with the aim of making the workplace COVID secure before employees return to their normal workplace.
Such actions should include:
This should be a risk assessment that specifically considers the risks and hazards imposed by Covid-19. It should be a systematic and thorough review of the entire workplace and operation to identify all the risks that exist in the workplace. The assessment should consider the work environment, plant and equipment that is to be used, the people involved, and the tasks being conducted.
The start point should always be who is at risk and how. Putting people at the centre of the risk assessment will help ensure its effectiveness.
It should clearly set out how those risks are to be mitigated (control measures), including continued physical distancing and hygiene regimes, as set out in government guidelines.
It is likely, a lot of the control measures will involve changes in the daily working practices.
Involvement / Engagement
Arguably, it is more important than ever to involve an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) professional, whether internal or external.
Like all risk assessments, it is also important that there is consultation with employees, safety and / or Trade Union representatives. This helps ensure a thorough and robust risk assessment and also assists in the engagement of the wider workforce.
Many employees will be very concerned about returning to work and will have lots of questions about how safe it is and what is being done to protect them and has enough been done to ensure the workplace is COVID secure through measures that will include sufficient physical (social) distancing, sufficient and through hygiene and cleaning routines and, where necessary, the provision of suitable personal protective equipment.
Clear, timely and precise communication is important.
Once the risk assessment and procedures have been agreed, these should be communicated to the employees. This should be communicated before they return to work to allay the fears of people, by giving them the confidence the right actions have been taken to protect them. They should then be reinforced and recommunicated when employees arrive at work.
The situation continues to change on a monthly, weekly and, even daily basis. For this reason, it is important companies constantly review the official advice and all their working practices and risk assessments, modifying and updating them as required. It is equally important that all updates and modifications are communicated in a clear and precise manner to keep employees updated and engaged.
In addition to considering how employees will return to their workplace, it is also important for businesses to continue to consider:
Employees that are able to work at home should continue to do so.
Whilst employers are not required by law to conduct risk assessments for employees temporarily working at home, as a business we would recommend it as good practice. It will help reduce the risks of injury, such as back ache and neck pain and will help the employee feel valued.
Pivoting their Business
Businesses that are pivoting and changing their services, should ensure they have robust risk assessments and procedures in place that go beyond COVID 19 specific risk.
A business has the responsibility to do everything that is reasonably practicable to ensure the protection and safety of employees and anyone affected by their activities. For example, if a shop or restaurant is now offering a home delivery service, the operation and hazards are different to those encountered in the store or dining area. Therefore, it is important any new process or activity is assessed as part of any wider COVID 19 assessment.
About the author:
Andy Rhoades is the founder and owner of ABR Safety Limited, a Health and Safety consultancy based in Wiltshire. The business specialises in supporting employers to protect their employees and maintaining legal compliance.
If you need support with ensuring your business is COVID secure or with writing new or revised procedures and risk assessments for new business operations or service offering, please contact Andy for a no obligation conversation.