To enable those who cannot work from home to get back to work, the Government has produced extensive guidance to assist with the lifting of the lockdown as a result of COVID-19.

In order for employees to return to the workplace with the confidence that they will be safe, employers have been tasked to undertake a specific COVID-19 risk assessment with a view to reducing the risk of the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in their workplace to the lowest level possible.

The risk assessment to be undertaken by each employer will be specific to their workplace and the HSE are clear in their guidance that you cannot simply copy an example risk assessment and put your business name to that document – this will not satisfy the law and protect your employees.

Each employer will need to think about the specific COVID-19 hazards and controls within their workplace which will need to take into account the following:

  • The nature of the business

  • The size and type of the business

  • How it is organized, managed and regulated

  • What resources are available to your business

  • The layout of the workplace

  • Its employees (i.e.whether there are any especially vulnerable people)

If you have fewer than 5 workers or are self-employed, you do not have to write down anything as part of your risk assessment.

However, for those larger businesses, employers are required to formally produce a COVID-19 risk assessment document.

So how do I go about preparing the COVID-19 Risk Assessment?

  • As a first step, employers need to:

    1. identify how COVID-19 could be transmitted within your workplace;

    2. decide how likely it is that that risk could eventuate; and

    3. consider how serious that risk is.

  • Then employers can consider what actions or steps that can be taken to eliminate or reduce that risk as far as possible.

Step 1 - Factors / issues to be considered within the COVID-19 risk assessment

In order to complete the above task, each employer will need to consider the layout of the workplace / premises and how it can be adapted to put in place social distancing as far as practicable, how their people work, what facilities and equipment are used, what the working practices are, and how safe are they in light of the COVID-19 virus.

The Government guidance produced highlights example areas / activities that should be considered in every workplace within the risk assessments including moving around the workplace, individual workplaces and work stations, managing meetings, considering the use of common areas, considering how to deal with accidents, security and other incidents, managing your customers, visitors and contractors, keeping the workplace clean and helping everyone to keep good hygiene as well as handling goods, merchandise and other materials in and out of the workplace.

Step 2 – mitigation / reduction of the risk

Once you have considered all of the above issues, the next consideration for each issue is what steps can be taken to control and reduce the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. 

Steps to take to reduce the risk may well involve redesigning the job, physically changing the workplace layout, replacing materials machinery or process, organising the work to reduce exposure to the risk, identifying and implementing practical measures needed (in particular to maintain social distancing) and perhaps providing personal protective equipment where appropriate. 

Employers aren’t expected to eliminate all risks, but they need to do everything reasonably practicable to protect their employees. For each workplace this is a balancing act taking into account the level of risk, against what can be done to control that risk in terms of practicality, resource, money, time and trouble.

Finalising your risk assessment

Once you have considered the above in terms of the risks and mitigating steps to be taken, you then need to complete your risk assessment that should record:

  • what the risks are;

  • who might be harmed and how;

  • what steps are in place to control that risk;

  • what further action may be required to control those risks;

  • and who will be carrying out that actions and when it is needed by.

Publishing your risk assessment

In order to ensure that businesses and their employees are aware of the risks in the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and to effectively get everyone on board in helping to reduce that risk, the Government guidance encourages ongoing communication and collaboration with employees to put in place the necessary changes and steps to the working practices and procedures.

In all likelihood for some time the “normal” way of working will need to change extensively, and it is important that employers engage with their employees and workers to agree and understand the inevitable changes in their working arrangements, to ensure that those changes can actually be made, and are effective.

Once your risk assessment has been finalised, it is recommended that employers share the results of that risk assessment with your workforce, and if possible, publish the results of that risk assessment on your website. The Government guidance is that they expect all employers of over 50 workers in any event to publish their risk assessment.

In addition, the Government have produced a COVID-19 notice to be displayed in the workplace to show that employers have considered the guidance, carried out an appropriate risk assessment and put in place appropriate steps and measures to reduce the transmission risk accordingly.

Preparing the COVID-19 Risk Assessment is no easy task.  It requires an overview of the vast majority of the working practices and procedures of a business, considering each of those practices and procedures in turn in terms of what risk they pose to the transmission of COVID-19, and what realistic steps can be taken to reduce the risks accordingly.

Hopefully however with the use of the guidance, employers can start to open up their workplaces to enable their businesses to function with the confidence that all steps have been taken and considerations put in place to protect them and their employees as far as practicable in their individual situations.

Should you require any assistance or further guidance when it comes to producing your COVID-19 Risk Assessment, and how Government guidance should be applied to your particular workplace, or if you have any other health and safety issues that would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact the Prettys team on 01473 232121.

Louise Plant
Senior Associate