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How to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in your business

As lockdown restrictions ease over the coming months, many businesses that were forced to close or ask their employees to work from home will be considering how to safely reopen. Social distancing measures remain for now, which means that the majority of businesses will need to rethink their workspaces to ensure they're safe for employees, clients and customers. 

We’ve put together an overview of everything you'll need to consider as you prepare your premises for reopening. 

When should I be doing a COVID-19 risk assessment?

If you’re already trading and have remained open throughout the lockdown periods, you need to have a risk assessment in place to prove that you’re working safely and adhering to COVID-19 secure guidelines. For those businesses who have yet to reopen, undertake a risk assessment at the earliest opportunity to be in the best position to rebound as and when further lockdown restrictions are lifted over the coming weeks and months.

All workplaces have an obligation by law under Section 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to do a standard risk assessment to protect employees, and others, from harm. The Government recommend that you take out a risk assessment in line with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance. 

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum you must do as an employer is:
•    Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
•    Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
•    Take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Throughout the assessment process, consult with your employees and, where applicable, relevant trade unions about the right time to safely return to work, transportation options and home working arrangements.

Once complete, share the results of your risk assessment with your employees and if possible, publish the results on your website. You're expected to do this if you have over 50 employees, though there's no legal action if you don’t. You only need to publish the results of the risk assessment rather than the whole assessment document itself. If you have multiple premises or properties, it will be presented as a single overarching risk assessment.

In addition, the Government has published a series of guides across a range of sectors to help businesses work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, see here. It's worth noting that many small businesses operate more than one type of workplace, such as an office, factory and fleet of vehicles so you may need to use more than one of these guides as you think through what you need to do to keep people safe and workplace COVID-19 secure. We suggest you take a look through the ‘Shops and branches’ and ‘vehicles’ guides in particular, as they contain content relevant to you.

How often should I be doing COVID-19 risk assessments for my small business?

You should be undertaking a review of your risk assessment regularly but particularly when government guidance on COVID-19 changes, if you have a coronavirus outbreak within your business, when you reintroduce a previously closed part of the business (for example reopening public toilets), or if you introduce a new product or service.

What should I be doing to reduce the spread of COVID-19?

On top of the formal risk assessment process, the Government also advises a review of the below key areas to reduce the spread of COVID-19:

Hand washing is still incredibly important, and businesses must ensure they have the necessary facilities, as well as soaps and sanitizers to allow their staff and anyone visiting the premises to wash their hands adequately. To read the latest guidelines on hand washing see here.

Extra cleaning may be needed to ensure that all equipment and surfaces are routinely deep cleaned and disinfected. This should particularly be the case in areas of high contact such as door handles, light switches, and reception areas. 

Workspaces and Communal areas 
All premises will need to be set up to allow for 2 metre gaps between employees, clients, customers, and any other visitors. This may mean reconfiguring office space, creating one-way systems for communal areas like kitchens and bathrooms, putting in floor markings and limiting the number of people allowed into the premises at a time (in some cases, consideration will need to be given to reconfiguring working hours or keeping some staff working from home). In communal spaces such as a kitchen, sharing of utensils and kitchenware should be prohibited where possible and drinking fountains disabled. 

In addition, for reception areas or other customer facing points, putting up glass screens could be effective. 

Some businesses may require additional health and safety equipment such as masks or gloves. The OPSS has put together some guidance on whether your business needs to provide PPE to employees. You can read about this here

If your business relies on drivers, there are some additional health and safety measures to be considered. Individuals should not share the same vehicle if social distancing cannot be achieved. If work vehicles are shared, then they must be cleaned between each user. 

Along with the normal safety measures for delivery drivers, businesses must also make sure they're delivering goods in a safe manner for themselves and the customer. Guidance on this can be found here.

Employee wellbeing
It’s important to consider how your employees’ wellbeing could be affected by going back to work. Those that are at higher risk or who are looking after an individual who is high risk should still work from home where possible to enable them to shield. In addition, many other individuals may be concerned about their commutes and therefore be hesitant about returning to the office. Communicate with your staff early on to ensure they're aware of all the procedures that have been put in place for their safety. 

Encourage employees where possible to walk or cycle to work to minimise contact with others. This may mean that cycle storage may need to be extended at the premises. 

This is a challenging moment for businesses but putting these measures in place is the first step towards a more normal working environment, which is so important for small businesses that have been unable to function during the lockdowns.