Since the UK government implemented a nationwide lockdown on 23 March 2020, many businesses were forced to close their doors. Those able to remain open have been forced to work in a very different manner compared to just a few months ago.
We are now living in a very different world and will be for the foreseeable future. Businesses need to adapt to survive, meaning those that adjust quickly are likely to be rewarded with new opportunities as the world begins to move again.
People worry – businesses need to reassure
This killer is silent and invisible, and has not gone away. Many of us will continue to worry about our safety even as the UK’s roadmap to the “new normal” becomes more clearly defined.
Even when the government advises us that we can live and work more freely, will we hesitate to go back to work as normal, use public transport, go to bars, dine out and go shopping? I think so. Even though most of us dislike this current situation, the majority feel safer at home just now.
The likelihood is that whatever your business was doing before will not be enough in a post-lockdown world.
It’s critical that you prepare now by considering the risks and introducing control measures to mitigate them. Businesses that are able to confidently inform customers of post-lockdown best practices will surely win more custom over those slow to respond or even worse, that do nothing.
In addition, if you put the time in now to plan how you’ll manage your returning staff and the ramping up of productivity, you’ll see a smoother transition back to business as usual – or as close as we will get any time soon!
COVID-19 is an unseen risk – threatening our existence
Pre-coronavirus, many businesses across all sectors, including construction, factories, hospitality, healthcare, offices and mobile workers, were beginning to realise there must be a better way of managing their manual H&S systems, but not having the time or the old adage “don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken” contributed to businesses “making do” with their current systems.
However, this new risk type is unlike many others, as it’s unseen and impacts everybody at all levels, across all industries and sectors. Its existence challenges our current working methods and H&S practices, which will now need urgent review. What current practices will you have to re-consider in order to enable your business to function through the coronavirus era?
With numerous people working together or with many customers accessing your services and/or products, how will social distancing affect the working environment?
Have you considered access and egress points, elevator/escalator usage, or even the stairs? Will your staff and customers be able to stick to 2m distancing when passing each other in corridors, or what would happen in the event of a fire alarm evacuation for example?
How will you manage contact in your rest rooms and staff canteens to ensure everyone is kept both safe and well-fed?
Have you assessed all the touch points across your building, how often your staff contact touchpads, door handles, turnstiles, kettles and other surfaces?
Are you responsible for managing an office block that has been empty for weeks on end? Do you need to consider the legionella control regime before your staff return to work, or shou re-consider any other statutory testing regimes the implications of less footfall in recent months?
Will you be culpable?
There are mounting pressures to make sure that businesses handle this post-lockdown transition correctly, and rightly so.
Unions are suggesting that they want to see evidence of solid risk assessments prior to staff returning to work and the HSE has also confirmed that should anyone in your organisation contract coronavirus at work, this should be reported under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013). Furthermore, if an incident which leads to a potential exposure to COVID-19 be reported, the HSE could investigate, identifying what risk assessments you have completed, or not, whilst expecting you to have appropriate control measures in place to mitigate this risk.
They could issue enforcement notices to those who are not taking appropriate action.
If you don’t act now, how long will it be before a customer or member of your team contracts coronavirus?
By putting your workers or the general public at risk, you are at risk of damaging your business reputation. Furthermore, if you have not taken the measures deemed necessary by the HSE , you could find yourself facing court proceedings that may lead to large fines or even jail sentences for company directors.
Review and renew to mitigate your risk
Having recognised that coronavirus is here and will be for some time, and as with the introduction of any new risk type, you’ll need to create new risk assessments and review every existing risk assessment that relates to the work environment. You will need to protect your staff and the public against the spread of coronavirus and be able to prove to the HSE that you have taken every precaution possible.
The golden rule here is that no matter what level of ‘business as usual’ you are operating at, a task should only be completed where it can be done safely.
But where do you start? What do you need to take into consideration and how can you ensure this process is completed as successfully as possible?
You could make use of a free risk assessment template. This document gives great advice on things to consider and provides printable resources to put up around the workplace to inform and educate your staff.
Every business will need to consider their different circumstances and approach this exercise by looking at every task that is undertaken. Our guidance below is particularly geared to high-risk sectors such as construction, manufacturing, logistics, retail and similar, but it is not exhaustive.
- Enforce social distancing – throughout the building, including entry points and walkways, introduce a one-way system with clear signage introduced. Floor stickers can be sourced cheaply and provide a useful reminder of safe distances. Stagger shifts to spread the footfall in your buildings.
- If two metres cannot be maintained, staff should work side-by-side or facing away from each other while using appropriate PPE. Staff should keep windows of enclosed spaces or machinery open to provide ventilation.
- Minimise the use of contact points – this can involve removing the need to use turnstiles, thumb readers, sign-in sheets etc. Consider different ways of allowing access to sensitive areas without the need for contact. If this proves impossible, provide alcohol gel or disinfectant, paper towels and a bin by the contact point to enable users to sanitise before and after use.
- Enhance your cleaning and sanitising procedures, ensuring all surfaces are sanitised as often as needed; especially contact points such as door handles, handrails, etc. Continue to make hand sanitisers or hand washing facilities available and mandatory for staff as they enter, leave and pass through the building.
- When completing work off-site, the same rules apply – only work that can be completed safely should be undertaken. Complete a thorough risk assessment as you usually would, taking consideration for all COVID-19 risks. Consider completing a virtual walkthrough using video software when agreeing new contracts.
- Don’t forget about travel to and from jobs when risk assessing for COVID-19. Ensure that staff are still able to social distance whenever travelling to jobs. The guidance recommends one person per 2-3 seated vehicle and a maximum of two people in five-seated vehicles, with a driver and a rear passenger, unless those travelling are from the same household. Anyone unable to travel in this manner should not attend.
- When arranging meetings, observe social distancing rules and minimise unnecessary contact. Use telephone or video conferencing. Where this is not possible, only those essential should be present and the venue should be picked appropriately based on good ventilation, adequate space and a low footfall of others in the building.
- If any of your team are office-based, consider whether home working is sustainable for the longer term and use this as a preferential option.
Dynamic reviews and communication
There’s no doubt that reviewing every risk assessment within your organisation will be an onerous task. If you’re still using paper-based risk assessments, this process becomes even more unwieldy. Not only does each risk assessment need updating with every single task needing consideration, but every member of staff needs to review the new risk assessments specific to their role and sign them off as understood and acknowledged.
Some risk types are generally fairly static. However, in these extraordinary times, even these may need a constant review as the effort to tackle COVID-19 is so fast-moving. Employing a manual system makes this almost impossible. However, utilising H&S software can make this easy, allowing you to review your health and safety processes on a daily basis if necessary. Updated work methods, new policies, training requirements and control measures can be amended where necessary, and you can disable others that are no longer required.
By moving to online risk assessments your teams can receive their new documents online before reading and acknowledging them them on any internet-ready device. No need to make several trips into the office to sign hard copies, which aside from making the process easier, should significantly reduce unnecessary contact. Cloud-based software helps you remove the risk and burden from your office staff, who would otherwise be forced to handle reams of paper containing countless different versions of documents.
Peace of mind with a strong software-based health and safety culture
Many workers may be worried about returning to work, anxious about how the new way of working will look and concerned by the continuing risk of contracting COVID-19
In a new post-lockdown world, you’ll need your whole team to get on board with the changes that are necessary to ensure their safety. Being able to engage your workforce, whether it’s a small team or a large-scale operation with thousands of staff, will mean you can implement these changes in a more agile manner.
CRAMS has several features built in to help you address this and create a positive health and safety culture within your business.
Information and updates can be communicated quickly, and every member of staff can have access to the most up-to-date guidance at any point, as long as they have access to a web-enabled smartphone, tablet or PC.
Using the reporting tool, members of staff can log incidents, accidents or hazards, which are then flagged to the person responsible for investigating and rectifying the issue. Everyone gets ownership of their environment, helping you to make ongoing improvements and develop a strong culture.
With CRAMS, you can also benefit from free toolbox talks and more than 60 e-learning courses that can be assigned to staff and accessed from anywhere. These courses include many health and safety related topics, from manual handling and working at heights to managing workplace stress and coronavirus. By giving your workers access to an abundance of information and training you can make sure they are kept informed and supported into the new way of working.
To ensure sick team members don’t continue to work, staff should be encouraged to report illness and not feel worried about needing time off, especially in relation to COVID-19. Ensure sickness policies and those relating to COVID-19 illnesses are up to date and available to all staff. CRAMS can help you quickly share company policies, including absence policies. Staff will receive an email notification; they then have access to your policies whenever they need them and can make sure they are comfortable with the content.
Futureproof your business now by taking the time to ensure you have easily reviewable, comprehensive, effective and appropriate risk assessments, making you compliant and providing peace of mind. Not just for you, but your employees and your customers too.
Health and safety improvements, including utilisation of dynamic software such as CRAMS, could be one of the best investments a company can make during these difficult times.
Read more about all of the features that CRAMS offers.