Including Covid-19 in your workplace risk assessment
As we are now facing a new risk, workplace risk assessments need to be updated to include covid-19. In this chapter, we look at the first two steps of the risk assessment process – Identifying the hazards and assessing the risk.
Employers should already be familiar with the risk assessment process, as they are legally responsible for protecting their employees from harm – failure to do so can lead to prosecution, fines and even prison sentences. If you need a reminder of how to undertake a risk assessment, follow this link to the Health and Safety executive, or work through the Safer Food Group’s Level 2 Health and Safety course for a more detailed understanding.
Identify the hazards
Hazards are processes, environments or physical objects that may cause harm. In the current climate, you will need to consider a new environmental hazard – the transmission of a highly contagious virus that has the potential to cause serious harm to a large percentage of your workforce and customers. This could be within your business premises, or outside of your premises if you despatch goods or send people to work elsewhere.
Record this process in writing, either in addition to your normal workplace risk assessment, or as a specific document that addresses Covid-19 as an individual risk. This template, created by The Food Standards Agency in Scotland, is a great starting point if you need some help.
Assess the risk
In other words- how likely is the hazard to occur, and how much harm could it cause?
Unfortunately, in this case, the hazard could cause very significant harm. In business terms, you could experience a depletion in your workforce meaning you cannot continue day to day business, or you could transmit the virus to your customer, damaging your reputation. In personal terms, anyone who contracts the virus may be at risk of a considerable period of sickness, long term health effects or even death.
Using the information in part 1 about methods of transmission, think about the ways the virus can enter and be transmitted around your business. As we have seen, Coronavirus is particularly resistant and robust, surviving both in the air and on surfaces; this is one of the reasons it has become such a dangerous disease.
Consider any person or object coming into your premises as a potential carrier of the disease and think about their journeys as they move around your premises. At what stages in these journeys do these people or objects come into contact with other people or objects? Do workers share equipment, touch the same surfaces, work within a small area?
In your risk assessment, write down all the instances in which a person touches a surface or object that might have been touched by someone else – whether handling stock, ingredients or finished goods, sharing equipment or working in a shared workspace. Consider all of the times within a working day they may be in close proximity to a colleague or customer – don’t forget to think about break times, and periods before work when staff may gather to get changed or access leisure areas, rest areas and lockers.
As part of your assessment, you will need to understand if some people are at greater risk than others, either because of the job that they do, or because of their personal characteristics. Current guidance suggests that no specific groups of the population are unaffected by coronavirus, and as such you must consider all members of staff at risk. However, it is sensible to consider extra measures for those specifically identified as vulnerable, as discussed in part 1. Add this information to your risk assessment document, so you remember to look at each group individually.
Sector specific guidance
The UK government has produced comprehensive guidance for various sectors to help in the risk assessment process. We have provided links below to those of most relevance to the Safer Food Group’s customers, but to view all sector specific guidance to working safely during the pandemic, use this link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19. These guides also contain sector specific regulations that relate to businesses in England (see part 3 for links to regulations in devolved UK nations)
- Covid-19 Working Safely (1) – Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures
- Covid-19 Working Safely (3) – Implementing a Worksafe Plan