Sheida Esfandiari | Marketing Assistant
Health & Safety Risk Assessments for Returning to Work
By Sheida Esfandiari
Nearly all the restrictions that have been imposed upon us over the last 18 months will be scrapped as of July 19th, the Prime Minister has confirmed.
Social distancing, legal limits on gatherings and the encouragement of home working will end, but that doesn’t mean the virus won’t continue to be a big part of our lives for some time to come.
In this piece, we’ve put together a guide on how to perform a health and safety risk assessment for those returning to work in the coming weeks. The virus is still contagious and may still pose a threat of serious illness and even fatality, so it’s important that every workspace is COVID-secure to protect your employees and prevent the virus from spreading where possible.
The Initial Risk Assessment
As an employer, it’s vital that you take the wellbeing and health of your employees seriously – particularly so if you’re asking them to return to the office for the first time since March 2020. This means that you must take all reasonable precautions to safeguard your workers and visitors from the virus.
You’ll need to perform a COVID-19 risk assessment to help you identify and protect against potential risks.
You need to:
- Pinpoint what activity or scenarios may be at increased risk of spreading the virus.
- Think about who might be most at risk.
- Decide what the likelihood is of exposure.
- Review situations that may increase the likelihood of exposure, and act to remove them, or at least scale them down in order to minimise the risk.
Although of course, we’ve been told that restrictions will lift come July 19th, we’re still being encouraged to use common sense. For example, some employees may not feel comfortable returning to the office without social distancing or other similar measures in place, so it’s up to you to put these things into your risk assessment.
In June 2020, Public Health England released a report which outlined the disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19, which tells us that some people may be at more risk of contracting and/or experiencing increased symptoms and illness should they catch the virus.
It’s important to consider these findings within your risk assessment, to ensure you can manage any risks within your business.
This may include:
- Continuing with social distancing measures and/or mask wearing in common areas.
- Continuing flexitime to ensure that there aren’t too many in the office at any one time.
- Providing additional facilities, such as handwashing or oxygen supplies, for example.
Regular Cleaning, Hygiene & Handwashing
Coronavirus can transmit from person to person via surfaces, which means that it can be passed on to others who come into contact with that same surface.
Regular cleaning programmes and frequent handwashing reduces the potential for the virus to spread, and will help to keep employees safe.
Our sister company ClockedIn, have devised an entirely contactless solution called the SmartHub Cleanse & Go. This system is able to measure the temperature of anyone entering a new environment, and will issue an alarm should someone’s temperature exceed the pre-set level.
In addition to this, the system is also able to dispense hand sanitiser automatically to provide a safe and effective all in one temperature and sanitiser solution.
By law, all workplaces must have an adequate air supply in enclosed areas, and although this was in force before the pandemic, it’s now more crucial than ever.
Appropriate ventilation is not only important for physical health and wellbeing, but it’s also capable of blowing away COVID-19 particles.
You should be increasing fresh air supplies in your working space, by:
- Increasing natural ventilation – passive air flow is created through open (even partially) windows, doors, and air vents.
- Mechanical ventilation – relies on the use of fans and ducts to transport fresh air from outside.
- Combination ventilation – by combining natural and mechanical, you can maximise your fresh air input, which prevents the build up of stagnant air where germ particles thrive.
This guidance will apply, not only in offices, but also in most working environments. During your risk assessment you must consider:
- The risks of airborne transmission in enclosed areas.
- Which areas of the working space will be most likely to benefit from further ventilation sources?
- How the environment could be improved from a ventilation perspective.
Why is Ventilation Important?
Increased ventilation reduces the number of virus particles that may be in air. This, therefore, reduces the risk of aerosol transmission – which is when someone breathes in the miniscule particles after someone infected by the virus has been in the same space.
This obviously means that the risk of catching and passing on the virus exponentially increases in poorly ventilated environments.
It is important to remember during your initial risk assessment, however, that ventilation will only have a minimal effect on:
- Droplet transmission – this is where someone comes within two metres of someone with the virus. The Government’s official guidance on this is that those that are contacted by Test & Trace or test positive for the virus will still be required to self-isolate until August 16th. This means that a robust testing process may need to be brought into place for your organisation.
- Contact transmission – once expelled from the body COVID-19 can live on a surface from a matter of hours to days: regular cleaning is essential.
Aerosol Transmission Risk
Appropriate ventilation can look vastly different depending on the workplace.
By and large, you can reduce the risk of aerosol transmission by ensuring that:
- Employees with symptoms or a positive test remain at home.
- Providing adequate fresh air sources.
- Limiting the number of people in one particular area.
- Understanding what activities might require people to come together in a small area, and how you can make changes to these activities.
- Ensuring that every conclusion is monitored in a risk assessment.
- Increasing hand wash and sanitation stations.
Many commercial premises that are making plans to return to a more structured office arrangement will be doing so after a considerable period away from the premises. Before your employees reintegrate themselves back into office life, you must reconsider all of the following:
- Your fire risk assessments must measure what has changed in this period.
- Means of escape – ensure that any social distancing rearrangements haven’t impacted fire safety.
- Retesting fire safety systems and equipment.
- All emergency procedures and staff training must be refreshed.
It’s important that any changes made to combat the spread of the virus are also viewed from a fire safety standpoint. This will help you not only prevent any potential outbreak, but also keep all employees safe and protected from reasonable fire risk at work.
Any significant changes, such as moving furniture or changes to ventilation must be recorded in your fire risk assessment.
Reacquaint yourself with the following:
- Reducing risks – have you consider every reasonable measure when it comes to reducing the risk and spread of fire?
- Alarms – are all alarms and emergency lighting in good working order? These must be tested thoroughly before employees return to the premises.
- Temporary measures – have you had to take any temporary measures, such as staggering employee working hours? If so, this should be communicated to your employees and recorded in your risk assessment, so you know precisely who is in the building in the event of a fire.
- What’s Changed – there’s a good chance that after all this time away from the premises that some risks have changed completely or evolved slightly. For instance, have you increased the use of flammable liquid (i.e., hand sanitiser) or are you storing oxygen onsite?
Every employer has a duty of care towards their employees, which means once they return to the office, perhaps for the first time since March 2020, it’s crucial that both COVID, health and safety and fire risk is assessed and managed correctly.
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