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Conducting Covid-19 coronavirus risk assessments – Ten key issues for UK employers to consider

As UK organisations begin to think about returning to the workplace, here are ten key issues for in-house counsel and HR teams to consider when conducting risk assessments. 

1. The risks are real

Frequently, when employers conduct risk assessments, the chances of specified events happening are remote or unlikely. With Covid 19, the risks are real and the consequences can be severe, making an assessment more than a box-ticking exercise. Ensure that government guidance is followed, and it is clear from the paper trail that this has been done. Using the guidance as a checklist  checklist can help.

2. Do not reinvent the wheel

It is already a legal requirement for employers to conduct a workplace risk assessment, and to record findings. Covid-19 is another risk that needs to be incorporated into the existing framework, although it is likely to come under closer scrutiny than previously. Remember to review each risk assessment in relation to all activities carried out, and assess how each activity may be affected by Covid-19 and what needs to change, if anything.

3. Reflect  the ‘new normal’

The ‘new normal’ envisages a workplace that is more expansive than the physical building, because of the number of employees working remotely. Reflect the ‘new normal’ in the risk assessment, ensuring all locations have been assessed. In addition, reflect that the ‘new normal’ is a changing landscape and may need to be modified as  external factors change and experience shows better ways of managing the risks.

4. Start now 

Employers should start work immediately, even if a return to the workplace is not anticipated for months. It is one thing to identify the risks, but another to implement ways of mitigating them. Preparation and planning is key.

5. Listen to those in the know 

Nobody knows more about the risks than your workforce. Talk with employee forums or representatives from the different populations to understand what might pose challenges or be hazardous, and listen to their concerns. If an employer has access to specialist advice from occupational health services, physiotherapists and facilities specialists, have a dialogue with them too.

6. Prioritise

Every aspect of Covid-19 is fraught with risk. The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify the highest risks and the preventative and protective measures to be taken to minimise them. It will be a matter of prioritising. The risk assessment should be viewed holistically, which may mean that other risks are upgraded or downgraded.

7. Consider who is included in vulnerable groups

Think about the increase of potential risks that were either less evident or widespread in physical office spaces, such as mental health or domestic abuse in the home setting. Factor these into all the existing vulnerable groups, such as pregnant workers, new or breastfeeding mothers and carers and shield workers with disabilities (both mental and physical).

8. Risk assessments are a work in progress 

Government guidance, emerging best practice, and sector-specific guidelines change frequently as the science is informed by greater levels of data. Employers will therefore need to keep up to date with the latest official guidance, not only to ensure compliance but also to update their risk assessments regularly as the situation develops.

9. Review third party risks assessments

Request and review any Covid-19 risk assessments from visiting service providers and contractors.  This will enable the employer to identify potential issues around infection control/reporting and track and trace, where appropriate.

10. Educate 

Education is critical. While the risk assessment results (rather than the details) must be shared with your workforce, and employers with more than 50 employees must publish their results on their website, compliance with these requirements is not ‘job done’. The workforce will need to be well educated on the measures to prevent and control risks. Think about the messages that will be received by the workforce, ensuring that they are clear, attention-grabbing and relevant.
For further information on how UK employers can prepare for the return to work, read our article Towards a “Covid-19 coronavirus secure” workplace: 15 key ways for UK employers to comply and manage risk or listen to a recording of our call held on 13 May 2020.


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