- regular COVID-19 risk assessments
- using expertise
- understanding your individual occupational risk
- planning and preparation
Our safer workplaces joint statement with Police Scotland, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities states that it is essential for all employers to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment for their workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive document: what to include in your COVID-19 risk assessment provides a useful template to help you undertake your own COVID-19 risk assessment.
Further advice can also be sought from Occupational Health Services, Health and Safety Professionals, Trade Unions, Infection Prevention Services, or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
For workplaces without union representation, union health and safety representatives are available upon request to support the development of workplace risk assessments.
COVID-19 risk assessments and mitigation measures should be part of frequent, ongoing dialogue between organisations and trade union or workforce representatives. Dialogue should identify what measures are working/ not working, where refinements are possible and identify any remaining gaps. Mitigation measures should be implemented as soon as they are identified.
This process incorporates an equality, human rights and risk-based approach which can be followed to help protect the health and safety of workers and others and ensure the longer-term economic viability of organisations. It requires all staff to be fully engaged in this process, through trade union or workforce representatives
Daily assessments of progress may be necessary with adjustments being made quickly and smoothly at the relevant stage. This may include tightening of workplace restrictions or reducing the number of people on site if risk assessments show this is required.
The Health and Safety Executive’s Talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus explains how you can discuss with staff the best ways to prevent COVID-19 in your workplace.
Organisations should ensure their health and safety professionals and representatives have the skills, training and knowledge to understand the risks associated with COVID-19. Where organisations and their workforce do not have access to these skills in-house, together, they should explore external support options. For example through trade associations, health and safety consultancies or trade union health and safety representatives.
Employers and employees in all sectors are encouraged to use the Individual Occupational Risk Assessment Guidance to support shared understanding of the workplace and individual risks, with the aim of reaching an agreement about how the workplace can be made safer.
This guidance is relevant for all staff, but might be particularly relevant for those staff who are returning to work, those who have an underlying health condition but are not on the shielding list, or are anxious about risks in the workplace.
Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19 shows that some groups of people may be at more risk of being infected and experience great adverse outcomes if infected. It is important that individuals know what their outcome is likely to be if they contract COVID-19.
The Individual Occupational Risk Assessment guidance, includes a simple to use tool, based on published evidence for the main identified risk factors. The COVID-Age tool works by translating the risks according to age, ethnicity, gender, BMI, and health conditions into years which are added to an individual’s age. This allows for the calculation of a person’s “COVID-Age” and which vulnerability risk category they fall into if they catch the virus – low, moderate, high or very high . You can find out more information about the ALAMA COVID-Age tool.
Further information on protecting higher risk groups, including those who are pregnant or considered clinically extremely vulnerable can be accessed here:
Regularly reviewing individual risk assessments
Reviews of mitigation measures to address the risks should be frequent. By frequent we mean when required or when anything changes about the workplace, the work activity or those involved. This could be daily in some circumstances and could include, for example, workplace staff levels as the numbers returning to work increase.
Plans to re-open a workplace should be developed in consultation with the workforce and updated on an ongoing basis. Planning must be based around risk assessments and safe systems of work, emphasising physical distancing, hand washing ,face coverings and ventilation.
Plans should aim to allow organisations to restart whilst protecting worker health and wellbeing.
Physical distancing and hygiene measures may require work to be carried out before a restart. For example the installation of screens, one-way systems, physical distancing zones, canteen re-arrangement, provision of PPE and hand sanitisers. Training and inductions into new ways of working will also be required. This will take time and require resource and commitment from organisations and workers.
Pilots and continuous reviewing
Implementing new enhanced safety measures may take time to embed. Pilots are a valuable way of testing new ways of working on a small scale. They should be used to:
- test mitigation measures
- find strengths and weaknesses
- make improvements before being rolled out on a larger scale
- staggered start time to address the travel and childcare needs of individual workers should be taken into account by organisations in line with relevant COVID-19 Protection Levels
- decisions regarding which workers to involve in pilots and a phased restarts should be carefully considered, involving trade unions or workforce representatives