A Guide to Making This a Living Document
Returning to work can’t happen unless there is a COVID-19 risk assessment in place. The detail and extent of this risk assessment will vary depending on the nature of the business but this will have to be completed and renewed as guidelines change to ensure the safety of all staff.
COVID-19 and the resultant social distancing measures are new to all of us. The impact on all businesses has been huge and there is a need for businesses to return. The disease hasn’t been eradicated and until there is a cure, we will be living with COVID-19 for some time to come. Therefore, businesses need to adapt and find ways in which they can return to work safely.
In our handy guide to COVID-19 Risk Assessment, we examine why this is so important, what should be in place and how a digital approach to managing safety regulations for COVID-19 can improve efficiency and as a direct result, can save time and money and more importantly, ensure the safety of staff.
The Route Back to Work
COVID-19 is a new disease and is not going away any time soon. Lockdown measures have suppressed this virus but as time goes on and businesses try to find a route to return to some kind of normality, there is a need to find a way to work with this virus in our society.
The UK Government has set out a 5 stage plan that can be used as the route map for most businesses to return to work. The plan includes:
- Continue to work from home wherever possible
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
- Maintain 2 metres social distancing wherever possible
- Where 2 metre social distancing isn’t possible, manage the transmission risk
- Reinforce cleaning processes
Each of these stages provide a road map for a safe return to work. The first point is straightforward enough – if work can be done from home, then continue to do so to minimise the numbers of people on public transport and contact with other people.
Point two will be the focus of this guide and will be examined in more detail throughout.
Points three and four should be looked at as part of the risk assessment and go hand in hand with each other. If social distancing isn’t possible, how do you minimise risk to as low as reasonably practicable.
Point five will need to be monitored throughout to ensure all areas are cleaned regularly and meet the standards that have been set.
Returning to work post lock-down will not be a return to the way work was before. There will be change and the COVID-19 risk assessment will be a big part of that. This guide explores what is involved and ways this can be made a living document and not a one-off exercise.
Know Your Responsibilities
Unlike other risk assessments, the COVID-19 risk assessment is not mandated by any formal legislation. At the moment this is a guidance document from the UK Government which sits within the Health and Safety at Work framework. That may change as we move forward but at the moment completing the COVID-19 risk assessment isn’t being done to maintain compliance to a standard but you do need to know your responsibilities if you have staff who are returning to work.
The current guidelines for a COVID-19 risk assessment will vary depending on the type of business involved. The example provided here would cover an office based business. This can be used as a guide and each employer should consider their own premises and type of work to determine the extent of the risk assessment questions required.
Typical areas to be covered in the risk assessment questionnaire are:
- Hand Washing
- Skin Checks
- Social Distancing
- Personal Protective Equipment
- COVID-19 Symptoms
- Visitors to Site
- Mental Health
- Photographic Evidence
There will likely be further areas to consider depending on industry. However, the list offered here will cover the requirements for the majority of workplaces.
Each employer will be required to complete a questionnaire for each topic and ensure there is evidence to support the answers and demonstrate that sufficient safety measures are in place. They will also have to show that all staff have been communicated to and are aware of their responsibilities with regard to COVID-19 safety.
Finally, and in line with other HSE policies, it would be a good idea to appoint a responsible person to manage the implementation of safety measures and who would be responsible for communicating to staff and is the one point of contact to ensure everyone is following the company advice.
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A Digital Approach
The COVID-19 risk assessment is not set by any specific health and safety standards. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to demonstrate compliance in this area. The advice is that the risk assessment should be accessible on a company’s website, particularly where there are over 50 employees on the premises.
As this is a new area in health and safety risk assessments and since it is an ongoing situation, it is likely that advice and guidelines may change over time. Therefore, the risk assessment should be revisited regularly to ensure it is still up to date and the latest advice and guidelines are being adhered to. The COVID-19 risk assessment therefore, should be a living document, checked and updated regularly. The best approach to ensuring that is happening is via an electronic form. Checks can be completed quickly, swift corrective action can be taken where necessary and demonstrable evidence of the risk assessment can easily be shared with all stakeholders when required.
Within a software system for COVID-19 risk assessments there will be three key areas
1. Forms for ease of testing
An electronic form enables all field staff to capture results quickly and easily and within the guidelines for a particular industry. It also allows for regular assessments to be performed to ensure safety measures in place remain effective and where further action might be required. The ease of regular updates makes the risk assessment a living document.
2. Compliance to manage issues
To demonstrate that any risk within the workplace has been reduced to as low as is reasonably practical, actions need to be raised and resolved swiftly. In an electronic system, a non-compliance is raised, the resulting action is quickly assigned and can be worked on to fix the issue as quickly as possible. Without an electronic system, this process is a lot slower.
3. Visibility for all stakeholders
To demonstrate that all has been done to allow staff to work safely while there is still a risk of COVID-19 transmission, communication and transparency for all stakeholders is key. With an electronic risk assessment system, anyone can see results of tests and corrective action plans at any given time and don’t need to wait for reports to be sent to them. Visibility and transparency leads to an open and honest culture that becomes embedded throughout the organisation.
Benefits of a Digital System
The main benefits of a digital approach to COVID-19 risk assessment, management and control are:
If using a paper-based system for COVID-19 risk assessments, the likelihood is that tests are done and the results are not known until the field worker carrying out the test has returned to the office to submit a report, issues will be highlighted and dealt with. However, to assign and action the issues will require someone to read the report and assign the job to the appropriate person. All of which takes time and can become a laborious process. In the digital format outlined in our guide, risk assessment results are instant and issues can be highlighted and actioned quickly.
A laborious paper based process has the potential for mistakes and misinterpretation of data. Therefore, the saved time and costs associated with an electronic format system all contribute to improved efficiencies and an all-round better way of working.