Risk Assessment & Coronavirus

Has your business carried out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place? 
Have you published the results of this risk assessment on your businesses website?

It is important that companies keep on top of the developing science and recommendations and put in place all reasonable precautionary measures to protect their employees and customers.
See below for a summary of risk assessment measures and current guidance.

Risk Assessment

Every business will be aware of risk assessments; from the health and safety of their employees and customers through to the financial decisions needed to be taken every day in investing for the future.

A risk assessment looks at what the severity of a potential hazard is, the likelihood of it occurring and from this deduces the risk.

There are also measures that may reduce either the severity of the hazard or the likelihood of it coming about. Whether or not these measures are ‘reasonable’ or not would depend upon the reduction of risk, the severity of the hazard or risk reduced and their practicality to the ongoing business and resources.

There are ongoing risks in everyday life; living with all its incumbent hazards means there will never by a zero risk sum game.

Food businesses are particularly adept at managing risk assessments and controlling risk within their production facilities; there is the focus on hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP) where those points at which the processing is at its most vulnerable are specifically assessed for the potential hazards.

COVID-19 risk assessments

In the same way with the easing of lockdown restrictions beginning this month for non-essential businesses where employees are unable to work from home being permitted to return to work under social distancing guidelines and recommendations to avoid public transport where possible, it will be necessary for risk assessments to be carried out.  (The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring remain closed.) 

Indeed, it is stated specifically in government guidance that employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place. 

Key guidance goes on to state "If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so."

The further detail of easing the lockdown looked at the different aspects of risk and using more individual assessment to reduce and limit it:

“A more differentiated approach to risk

As the UK moves into phase two, the Government will continue to recognise that not everybody's or every group's risk is the same; the level of threat posed by the virus varies across the population, in ways the Government currently only partly understands.

As the Government learns more about the disease and the risk factors involved, it expects to steadily make the risk-assessment more nuanced, giving confidence to some previously advised to shield that they may be able to take more risk; and identifying those who may wish to be more cautious. The Government will need to consider both risk to self, and risk of transmitting to others...

In the same way businesses will need to respond to further information and data when it becomes available and respond to information provided to them about employees and those working under their control to ensure the risk factor for all is reduced as far as may be reasonably or practically possible."

Therefore businesses should ensure risk assessments are kept updated and take into account any vulnerabilities of employees and customers.

Those who might be classed as vulnerable would be older people, and those with certain underlying medical conditions, who should take additional precautions to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Those defined as clinically extremely vulnerable have been advised to shield, staying at home at all times and avoiding all non-essential face to face contact. Those who are clinically vulnerable, including all those aged 70 and over and pregnant women, have been advised to take particular care to minimise contact with those outside their household.

No reference is made to data protection however whatever is published on company websites should be ensure that any identifying information for individuals is removed.

"COVID-19 Secure" guidelines

Workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines, these are set out below with links.

5 Key points

“1. Work from home, if you can

  • All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close...you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.
  1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions
  • This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place.
  • If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.
  1. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible
  • Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
  1. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk
  • Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
  1. Reinforcing cleaning processes
  • Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide hand washing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.”  

It is possible to reduce the risks of transmission in the workplace by limiting the number of people that any given individual comes into contact with regularly. Employers can support this where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to keep smaller, contained teams. Evidence also suggests the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well-ventilated areas

In addition to COVID-19 Secure guidelines for workplaces, the Government will consult on and release similar guidelines for schools, prisons, and other public spaces. In the meantime access to measures that can be undertaken to reduce risk can be accessed from Public Health England  the Health and Safety Executive and Food Standards Agency 

An earlier blog on social distancing measures for food businesses may be accessed here

All guidance applies to businesses currently open.  It also includes guidance for shops which the government believes may be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from the 1 June.  Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan. The government will also shortly set up taskforces to work with these sectors to develop safe ways for them to open at the earliest point at which it is safe to do so, as well as pilot re-openings to test businesses’ ability to adopt the guidelines.

The advice builds on the previously published sector based guidance which has not been withdrawn.  

The eight individual guidance document are as follows:

Individual advice

This limited relaxation of rules currently applies in England only.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-safe-outside-your-home/staying-safe-outside-your-home

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing#staying-at-home

Important aspects are stated as:

  • Individuals should keep their distance from people outside their household, wherever possible. Transmission is affected by both duration and proximity of contact; individuals should not be too close to other people for more than a short amount of time. Public Health England recommends trying to keep two metres away from people as a precaution.
  • It remains essential to keep hands and face as clean as possible. People should wash their hands often, using soap and water, and dry them thoroughly. Touching of the face should be avoided. Hand sanitiser should be carried when travelling and applied where available outside the home, especially when entering a building and following contact with surfaces. Clothes should also be washed regularly, as there is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics.

Face covering advice

Face covering is not compulsory.  There has been confusion on whether face covering is recommended or should be recommended.

The Government is now advising that people should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and where they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example on public transport or in some shops.

The government conclusions currently are that there is some evidence that suggests that whilst wearing a face covering does not protect you, it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms. Any face covering would be acceptable; the key thing is it should cover your mouth and nose. It is not necessary nor is it recommended that face coverings are the same as PPE used by health care and other workers. Primary aged children and those with respiratory conditions should not be required to use them.

Transport guidance

When travelling everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. If they can, people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact.

Social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed. As with workplaces, transport operators should follow appropriate guidance to make their services COVID-19 Secure.  

Nevertheless, it is recognised that there will be times and some settings on public transport where social distancing is not possible. The new guidance outlines how people should try to minimise the duration of this, and take all necessary steps to observe these measures where possible.”

Government press release

Guidance for operators

Guidance for individuals

Summary

As with any matter of safety it is important that employers implement all changes to achieve the safest workplace reasonably possible and that employees understand their responsibilities to fulfil requirements for these measures.

It is advised that full reviews are regularly undertaken and in light of any incidents/ongoing information.

Specific assessments should take place for particularly vulnerable employees to see if there are any reasonable adjustments that can be made to ensure the same levels of safety. It may be that under Public Health England advice it will not be possible for some individuals to return to the workplace.

Care should be taken to ensure any information published on websites complies with data protection requirements and is kept updated.

For more information on this or any other matter please contact Jessica Burt on jessica.burt@mills-reeve.com or Charles Pigott on charles.pigott@mills-reeve.com.

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