Working safely during Covid-19: the risk assessment

Working safely during Covid-19: the risk assessment

On 11 May 2020, the Government released guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Government has been quite clear that workers should not be forced to work in an unsafe workplace. Therefore employers must review working practices and put measures in place to protect their employees’ health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 crisis (and beyond).

During these unprecedented times, employers can be overwhelmed by the extraordinary amount of guidance available. To make things easier we have summarised the key points employers, employees and the self-employed need to consider from the Government guidance.

Thinking about and managing risk

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their workers and others who visit their premises. This duty pre-dates the current pandemic but employers must now risk-assess their practices to manage and minimize the risks posed by Covid-19 wherever possible.

To achieve this, the Government has suggested taking the following steps:

  • Handwashing – Employers must make sure that the workplace is clean in order to prevent transmission from contaminated surfaces. Therefore, they should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  • Work from home where possible – Make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should be adapted to comply with the social distancing guidelines, i.e. keeping people 2m apart wherever possible.

Special consideration should be given to the needs of employees who are vulnerable or self-isolating, and alternative steps may need to be taken to protect these categories of workers.

  • Social distancing – Thought should be given to using visual signs and markings to help staff and others follow the 2m social distancing rule wherever possible, including when employees arrive and depart from work, while working, in common areas and when travelling between sites.

It is worth noting the guidance states that, during an emergency such as an accident or fire, people do not have to stay 2m apart if it would be unsafe.

  • Further mitigating actions include:
    • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.
    • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
    • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
    • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).
  • Can face-to-face working go ahead safely? – Finally, if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, employers will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.

Employers have a duty to consult their employees and health and safety representatives. Employees are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace as they carry out the work on a day-to-day basis and will have a view on how best to work safely. It is therefore suggested to include your employees in your assessment of workplace risks and development of health and safety policies.

Sharing the results of your risk assessment.

Employers should share the results of their risk assessment with their employees as this will help to put their minds at rest if they are concerned about returning to the office. Companies with over 50 workers must publish their results on their website. The Government has provided a notice that you can download and display on your website to confirm you have followed their guidance.

If you have fewer than 5 employees or are self-employed, then you don’t have to write anything down as part of your risk assessment. However, it is encouraged that you do so anyway, so you have a record of your risk assessment that you can review to ensure you have done everything you need to do to protect yourself and your workers from the risks of Covid-19. There are various interactive tools available to support you, which can be found here.

Further Government guidance

The rest of the guidance the Government has provided is for employers to consider as they go through the above process and includes practical examples of how to implement the objectives. To read a summary of the further guidance and recommendations, click here.

Complying with Government guidance

It is imperative that all employers comply with the guidance. If an employer is found not to be adequately safeguarding their employees or clients, then the HSE or local authority will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of the workplace risks. For example, if an employer is not this taking appropriate action to socially distance their workforce, where possible, the HSE can take action, including issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements.

How Blaser Mills Law can help?

The above article is a summary of the recent Government guidance, for the full information please visit the Government website here. If you would like further advice on how to comply with the Government guidance or how to keep your business Covid-19 compliant, please contact our employment team on 020 3814 2020, or email James Simpson at jfs@blasermills.co.uk or Debbie Sadler on djs@blasermills.co.uk.