Risk assessing during a pandemic

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

As an employer, you must protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect your workers and others from coronavirus. This is called a COVID-19 risk assessment and it’ll help you manage risk and protect people.

Many think you don’t need to do an assessment if you employ fewer than five people, but actually the regs say you don’t have to write it down. My argument is, how do you defend yourself with no evidence, so take my advice and write them down. In the case of COVID-19 risk assessments you definitely need to write it down and make sure everyone it affects knows all about it.

Your COVID-19 risk assessment must:

  • Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  • Take into account who could be at risk
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • Provide actions to control the risk

What is a risk assessment?

It’s simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. The Government is requiring you to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment to ensure that your premises and the work you do is COVID Safe.

Is there an art to doing a risk assessment?

No definitely not, my advice would be keep it simple – just start by looking at those things you know are risky and list what it is that could go wrong, as well as what you are doing or could be doing to prevent them from going wrong.

What can go wrong? Allowing the virus in and spreading it around so that staff and visitors become ill.

What can be done? There is plenty you can do. You should plan work in the workplace to minimise contact between workers and avoid skin-to-skin and face-to-face contact. Where face-to -face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible.

As much as possible, keep groups of workers working together in teams that are as small as possible.

Staff should also wash their hands regularly.

Employees should keep the windows open for ventilation, as this minimises the risk of transmission. Clearance of airborne contaminants is dependent on the ventilation and air change within a room. The advice given to hospitals says that a single air change is estimated to remove 63% of airborne contaminants. After five air changes, less than 1% of the original airborne contamination is thought to remain. This shows the simple act of opening windows can make a real difference.

To protect your staff, you should remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating. Remind them also that whilst at work they must:

  • Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue (not their hands) when they cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately
  • Wash their hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell

And they must not touch their eyes, nose or mouth if their hands are not clean.

Driving for funeral purposes

Good ventilation (i.e. keeping the windows open) and facing away from each other will help to reduce the risk of transmission. Vehicles must be cleaned regularly using gloves and standard cleaning products with particular emphasis on handles and other areas where passengers will touch surfaces.

Style of assessment?

You will need to write these assessments down, but if you are looking for a standard document to complete a risk assessment on, you’re out of luck. There are plenty of examples on Google and the HSE has started one for you if you look at its incredibly helpful site.

Where do I start?

  • Identify what could go wrong and cause harm to someone in the premises, within the organisation or with the task you are doing. It is worth doing some research. Get using Google for a start. You won’t be the first one with this risk assessment to do.
  • Decide on who is going to be harmed. This is really important to do as a small risk to your staff might be a huge issue to the elderly lady that has just walked through your door to talk to you about her husband that has just passed away.
  • Consider the controls that are in place so far. There are usually some already in place naturally so make sure they work and then you can move to the next step.
  • Evaluate the risk. This means look at the severity of the outcome, e,g. broken bones, then look at how likely it is to happen. This likelihood part is where all the bad press comes from for health and safety. People focus on the fact that a major injury could occur and then ban it altogether. The fact that it may never happen or once a year will obviously dictate what measures you need to take to control the risk.
  • Add more control measures if there is still a risk that you will harm someone. The aim is to get the risk level down to an acceptable one.

When completing your assessment make sure you talk to your workers to explain the measures you are looking at taking. They can also provide valuable information on how you could control the risks.

What should I do next?

Simple. Just tell everyone about what you have found. Tell them about the risk they could be exposed to and what they should do to prevent any harm from happening to them. I would keep a record of this as well, just in case someone official wants to see it.

Once you have completed your risk assessment you will also have to monitor to make sure that what you have put in place is working as expected.

Help is at hand! As a member of SAIF:

You can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business simply by calling 08456 344 164.

You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your Health & Safety needs

We can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs. So what have you got to lose?

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