If you have any workers who come within the Extremely Vulnerable or Vulnerable Categories as defined by the NHS you need to complete a COVID-19 Vulnerable Worker Risk Assessment. This is needed to determine if they are safe to return to work, and any additional controls that may be needed to enable them to return fully or partially.
Our guidance has been compiled in the knowledge that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has instigated enforcement action against some employers for either not completing any type of vulnerable worker assessment, or for relying purely on a generic assessment form.
What is a Vulnerable Worker?
A vulnerable worker is someone who has a condition that has been listed by the NHS and Public Health England as being:
– Clinically extremely vulnerable, or
– Clinically vulnerable
The full list of conditions to which this relates can be found here
However, please note that this list is not exhaustive, and as consultants working with many customers during the pandemic we have come across a number of workers with medical conditions that have made them more vulnerable in the event of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. One such example was someone who had undergone a Splenectomy (removal of the spleen). So it is important to ask talk in detail with someone who has been shielding, or has raised concerns about their health condition about their concerns, and to seek further information where a condition is not on the list.
What the law requires
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that risk assessments are completed, and significant findings recorded. When completing an assessment you must consider the people who are at risk, and those who may be more vulnerable to a particular risk due to their personal circumstances (eg pregnancy, disability etc).
You therefore should identify anyone at your workplace who may be more vulnerable in the event of exposure to the virus. In practice this requires you to talk to your staff and ask them to let you know (if they haven’t already) if they have a medical condition that is listed by the government or if they have any other condition that they feel makes them more vulnerable (eg compromised immune system). Please also ask employees if they live in a household with someone who is listed as this should also be considered, to meet best practice. Our IOSH Approved “Principles of Safety Management in Healthcare” training course contains a detailed section on practical risk assessment, which can include vulnerable worker assessments (delegates can choose their assessment topics).
Failure to do so can result in the HSE issuing a Fee for Intervention Notice which requires to to rectify this. HSE charges you £157 per hour for their intervention.
Vulnerable Worker Risk Assessment
A vulnerable worker risk assessment considers specifically why an individual is more susceptible to risk of harm and the consequences if they are exposed. In the case of COVID-19, for example, someone with a significant breathing problem such as COPD or severe asthma will be more susceptible because the virus attacks the lungs and ability to breath. The risk assessment considers the health condition(s) of a vulnerable worker in the context of what they do for their job and their workplace, and helps you to identify if and what additional measures are needed to suitably protect that worker.
Is a Generic Risk Assessment Acceptable for Vulnerable Workers?
In short the answer is no. At least not unless it has been modified to take account of the individual’s own circumstances.
The purpose and benefit of using a generic risk assessment template is that it reduces duplication of about 40-70% of information that will be contained on a risk assessment form. It also provides the benefit of giving a systematic framework for completing a particular type of assessment, and guidance to the user as to what to take into account. However, simply using a generic form with standard controls and putting someone’s name on it will not be sufficient to meet requirements of the HSE, as we have experienced with some clients who have been criticised by HSE for this approach.
You can use a generic risk assessment provided:
– It enables you to write the individual’s name, job title and work activities
– It records the reason why the person is more vulnerable (or the household member)
– It lists the standard preventive and protective measures you are taking at work to eliminate/minimise the risk of catching the virus
– It allows you to consider a range of additional protective measures over and above those which are standard, which may be relevant and suitable to protect the vulnerable worker
– It enables you to write additional controls which may be relevant to protect your worker.
– It enables prioritisation of actions, based upon your estimation of the risk, eg through using some form of risk matrix.
We have produced a vulnerable worker risk assessment template which you can download from here.
Does this apply to general risk assessment?
The requirement to complete vulnerable worker risk assessments is not limited only to risk of COVID. Indeed, this requirement to consider those at risk and those who may be more vulnerable has always been in place since the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations were first introduced in 1992 (and updated in 1999). Therefore, you should be including a category for those who may be more vulnerable in all your risk assessments.
Further Help and Advice
If you would like to talk through how to use this free download (DOWNLOAD RISK ASSESSMENT) please call us now on 01622 717700 or email email@example.com. It costs nothing to talk and a simple phone call may be all that is needed to help you. And if you do need further support, eg in training on how to complete a vulnerable worker assessment or for a specialist to do them for you, please contact us. We are providing training either remotely using Teams or Zoom, and in the classroom environment where COVID-Secure measures are in place.