Although we are two years into the pandemic, we continue to see constantly changing government guidance. Our working practices have become adapted to new ways of working but are still subject to change as the pandemic develops. Omicron has forced many people to work at home again, after slowly returning to their workplace. Deltacron is now spreading and the effects of this are currently uncertain. The challenge now is to frequently review and to ensure you plans to return to work or change your working patterns are dynamic. COVID Planning therefore needs to be a fluid discipline which addresses the needs of your teams as well as your business. The mental and emotional strain on workers due to the constant change and uncertainty needs to be included in your risk assessment and planning process.
How do you reassure staff that your workplace is COVID-Secure ?
The key is to ensure thorough planning and assessment. You then need to share these plans and your safety controls with your teams, and let them know what specialist input you have received to ensure the best advice. . Staff will be more open to returning to work if they feel secure – ie COVID secure – knowing that you have followed government and specialist guidance when assessing the risks. Having completed dozens of COVID-19 risk assessments in a wide range of environments, we are ideally placed to support you. Once your standard COVID controls are established these can be easily modified as the pandemic develops and changes. Common infection control and distancing measures will be enough for many workplaces, and are likely to remain a stable part of organisational safety management.
To help you plan or review your assessment, we have shared some of the common questions you need to consider before even thinking about practical measures such as social distancing. We have also produced a complimentary COVID-19 assessment planning questionnaire that you can download.
Is a COVID-19 risk assessment a legal requirement?
The law requires you to complete risk assessments and to record the significant findings. Therefore there is an implied legal requirement to do a COVID-19 assessment. The assessment helps you to look ahead to decide where the risks of infection may occur/ could be spread so you can plan to eliminate or mitigate the risk.
Do I have to tell staff that a COVID-19 risk assessment has been completed or updated?
To meet good practice and HSE guidance, any risk assessment must involve the end user, ie the staff. There is significant benefit in this as you can gain a better understanding of employees’ barriers to returning and then address them during your planning of precautions. This is the most effective way, together with ensuring you have access to specialist and professional advice, to reassure your staff.
Communicating the key measures that have been taken to facilitate a safe return to work is essential if you want to effectively engage your teams and provide the reassurance they need. Many measures will remain a constant feature, but you should still update your teams frequently to remind them they are need and why they are there.
We are only bringing back a small percentage of people back initially – do we still need to do a COVID-19 assessment?
The short answer is yes! The reality is that the assessment should be easier to complete as maintaining distancing when there is a small proportion of people in the premises will be easier to achieve and maintain. You still need to ensure your premises are safe though, and for staff to know what procedures apply. You may find our free download Assessment Planning questionnaire below will be helpful in steering you through the initial stages.
We have had some staff who were COVID-19 positive or self-isolated with symptoms. Can they return?
If they have been self-isolating and not obtained a GP’s Fit To Work assessment an assessment should still be completed to ensure they are not likely to expose other workers to infection. You should also refer to the Government guidelines for isolation of individuals who have either shown symptoms or are living with a household member who has had symptoms. You may also wish to download our complimentary occupational health assessment to help you verify whether they are safe to return.
Can employees who are on the vulnerable list from the Government return to work?
All measures should be taken to ensure these employees can continue to work from home or remain on furlough until the pandemic has receded further. They should not be in your initial stages of a return to work planning strategy. This list has been updated since the pandemic started. See here for details.
Who is competent to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment?
The HSE defines a competent person as someone (or a group of people) who has a combination of:
- technical health and safety knowledge
- experience and knowledge of the work, processes or type of environment
- knowledge and understanding of the risk assessment process
- communication skills
- ability to recognise their own limitations.
Usually a team approach is the most effective way to do the assessment. Often this is achieved by a specialist (such as a health and safety practitioner within your organisation) liaising with other key managers and senior managers to determine the company’s strategy for opening up the workplace (ie production planning, upscaling, prioritising teams to return first etc) as well as HR personnel to determine those who should remain at home, and premises/estates personnel to provide input on the practicalities of social distancing. If you do not have internal health and safety specialist advice you may wish to obtain the help of an external specialist. Indeed, the input of such a specialist who has already completed these types of assessment can help you save a lot of time and trouble as they will already have dealt with similar situations. And we have completed dozens in all industries, from bus drivers, warehousing, offices, colleges to name a few.
Whilst nothing can beat the detailed inside knowledge of what your business needs to facilitate a safe return to work, seeking the input of a specialist health and safety practitioner will give a significant boost of reassurance to employees that you are taking this seriously. This can be either to complete your assessment or to review and validate it.