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There’s no place like home: make a careful risk assessment before you step outside!

Posted: 12/05/2020

The Government published nine guides on ‘returning to work’ on Monday 11 May (one general and eight workplace-specific): however the guides lack detailed clarity for employers on deciding when and how to re-open workplaces.

It is for employers to assess both the financial and health risks to their business and their employees – a complicated responsibility for which many may be ill prepared, and will need more tools to do this properly.

It is of course worth reading the guide specific to your workplace (available here) but other bodies are now also producing useful and more detailed guidance – for example, IOSH and RoSPA.

In summary:

  • Risk assessments must take account of both the severity and likelihood of a hazard occurring. Covid-19 is both high risk, and has a high likelihood of spreading – every decision must be made with this in mind.
  • Accordingly, employers should not feel pressurised to re-open workplaces if this is not necessary:
    • everyone who can work from home, should still be working from home;
    • if it is possible to open a workplace safely (see below), this can be considered;
    • if it is not possible for staff to work from home, or to reopen a workplace safely, then they should remain away from work – likely on furlough. The extension of the furlough scheme on 12 May 2020 further demonstrates the Government’s expectation that we will not be ‘returning to normal’ any time soon.
  • If the workplace is to re-open, a thorough risk assessment must be undertaken of all aspects of the employee’s day – from commuting (which may also be affected by any arrangements for children en route), arriving at, entry into and leaving the premises to normal working tasks, rest and recreation (including break out areas, kitchens, etc), toilet breaks and cleaning during the working day.
  • The primary aim is to maintain a 2m social distance between individuals at all times. This may be relatively simple, such as for someone commuting by car, or who works in their own office, while there will be some instances where it may be more difficult and where creative thinking could help (eg moving desks into a larger room, installing screens between desks, etc), and others which will be almost impossible to resolve (eg provision of toilets). If social distancing cannot be maintained, either it will not be possible to reopen a workplace, or other measures (eg use of masks, additional cleaning) will need to be considered.
  • Any risk assessment must consider all aspects of any measures proposed – by way of example the wearing of masks may reduce the risk in some areas (such as person-to-person transmission) but will also create other risks (eg a mask becomes an additional surface on which Covid-19 can live, and must be handled and washed accordingly).

These are unusual times which call for creative solutions. We are happy to assist with all or any aspects of your decision-making.

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