Deal with the small problems to prevent the big ones

Risk assessment
Deal with the small problems to prevent the big ones

That statement sums up the thinking behind risk management, and it has never been more applicable than in the wake of a global pandemic.

An emerging sentiment is that the government wants organisations to plan to get back to work as soon as practically possible. Safety is on everyone’s mind, and it’s clear that the need to socially distance in the office is not just a ‘back to work’ issue but is a long term strategy. But there’s more to managing the COVID-19 risk than just keeping people apart. 

The government guidance to businesses preparing for their staff to return after several months’ absence is categorical in demanding that organisations conduct thorough risk assessments as part of the return process.

Why should I conduct a risk assessment?

To be blunt, it’s the law. As an employer, you need to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19. You have a legal responsibility to protect workers and visitors from risk. To do this properly, you need to assess the risks they face and decide how you can do everything practically possible to mitigate that risk. 

But of course, it’s also important from an ethical viewpoint, to care for your staff both from a physical and mental viewpoint, and to ensure that they feel confident in returning to their jobs.

How to approach it

A thorough risk assessment needs to link specific workplace risks with the vulnerabilities of your staff. This means that consulting with your employees and understanding their individual circumstances is important. Their input should help to inform your decisions and help you arrive at practical solutions.

The five key steps

The process for compiling a risk assessment can be broken into five broad areas:-

  1. Identify the hazards. You need to evaluate all aspects of your workplace and document each hazard area. 
  2. Consider who could be harmed and in what way. Different groups of employees may be prone to different risks — for example, elderly staff, pregnant women, BAME employees.
  3. Evaluate the risk. What’s the likelihood of harm happening and what measures can you take to reduce the risk?
  4. Record your findings. Ensure you have a documented policy that is available for all staff to access. Government advice is that the assessment is published on your website.
  5. Review the policy. Your risk assessment should be constantly evolving as feedback from staff, and changes to government policy occur.

What should be included in a risk assessment?

This will vary according to your business, but there are some basic areas that your risk assessment will cover, relating directly to the risk of COVID-19.

  • Public interactions – does your staff need to deal directly with the public? If so, is there easy access to PPE and have staff been trained in its use. 
  • Social distancing – can you keep everyone in your building 2m apart? How will you ensure this is managed and maintained? – for example, making some desks unavailable, marking the floor.
  • Number of people occupying the building. Can you manage your total occupancy? How do you know how many people are in the building at any time and prevent too many people entering?
  • Workplace entrance and exit. How will you manage the flow of people through the entrances and exits? What about visitors, how should you review your sign in and sign out procedures and prevent visitors crowding into the waiting area?
  • Hand hygiene. What measures will you put in place to promote and facilitate hand hygiene? Can you provide sanitiser stations and put up health and safety notices to remind staff to wash their hands regularly?
  • Workplace cleanliness. How will you ensure workstations and equipment is regularly cleaned? Do the cleaning fluids kill the virus? What happens with hot desks once they have been vacated? There must be a process to clean them before the next person sits there.
  • What’s the process if a member of staff is taken ill with the virus? How will you communicate this, and how will you know with whom that person has been in contact?  

The government has produced a template for conducting risk assessments, and you can access it here.

It’s in all our interests to get the country back to work as soon as practical, but we all have a responsibility to ensure that it’s is done safely. Conducting a risk assessment is that way we can do that.

Are you preparing for a return to work? What challenges are you facing? Join in the conversation by commenting below.

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