How to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment for your business

Back to work:

Even though many of us are happy to be heading back to work or to revisit our favourite bar or restaurant, life is still not as we once knew it. Whether we are simply making short term adjustments or preparing for the ‘new normal’ we all have to consider possibilities and risks previously unimagined. This is a very important time for employers as they consider how to welcome back employees and customers safely. A COVID-19 risk assessment is a necessary step when planning how best to do this.

What is a COVID-19 risk assessment?

Risk assessments in the workplace are not new and essentially have two elements: 

  • Identifying potential risks and evaluating their severity
  • Putting in place measures to prevent them.  

However, given the new risks of illness posed by COVID-19, it is now a legal requirement for employers and the self-employed to do updated risk assessments in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

If we could give just one piece of advice to make the process as smooth as possible it would be to keep the communication channel with employees open. It will be important, now more than ever, to listen to their suggestions and concerns and ensure that they understand the changes to be brought in. The more you stick to this guideline, the more accepting employees will be of the new processes and thus will help implement them.

In your COVID-19 risk assessment will need to be able to demonstrate that you have done the following:

  • Identified what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  • Considered who could be at risk
  • Assessed how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • Acted to remove the activity or situation that poses a risk of transmission, or if not possible, taken measures to reduce the risk

This checklist should be revisited frequently, for instance, when new government measures are brought in or if your workplace situation changes. This may seem onerous, but once you have the protocols in place it will become second nature and you will be able to adjust until you have the slickest and most appropriate pathway for your business. It’s important not to forget that every business is unique, and has its own foibles and challenges – it may take some time to find the methods that are right for you.

Where to start with your risk assessment:

A good place to start is with an individual employee risk assessment. We know that certain groups are more at risk than others and identifying these at the outset will help form the rest of the protocol. It may be that this group of employees can work from home, in back office roles or lower risk areas. Use this useful and simple tool created by the British Medical Association that can help you calculate which of your employees are more at risk. 

Once you have stratified staff some simple wins might involve:

Social distancing

  • Follow ‘one metre plus’ rule 
  • Use floor tape/paint/screens 
  • Staff working side to side/back to back, not face to face. 
  • Consider the movement of staff/customers in high-traffic areas and how it can be reduced
  • Consider transmission risk through shared equipment etc.

Cleaning and hygiene

  • Provide handwashing and hand sanitising facilities. 
  • Ensure all surfaces are kept clean – this may mean increasing the level and frequency of cleaning. 
  • Clear guidance and schedules for extra cleaning. 

Face coverings and masks

  • Where social distancing cannot be maintained, masks/face coverings are advisable and can reduce the spread of transmission, or the severity of illness.

Of course, every business and every sector will have different needs. Consider looking at the government’s guidance on creating sector-specific risk assessments.

Thereafter, you could consider implementing a regular COVID testing regime for your staff. This might have HR benefits too, as staff might consider testing an added bonus and feel reassured by the measure.

Concluding thoughts:

Doing a COVID-19 risk assessment may seem a mountainous task, but my advice is to start with risk assessing individuals and go from there. Find some small logical repeatable steps and proceed hand in hand with your employees to gain their confidence and support. Good luck!