Conducting a risk assessment before re-opening your business

Whatever encouragement you’re getting from the UK Government to get back to work, you shouldn’t re-open until you’ve conducted a full risk-assessment. In fact, the expectation is that all employers with 50 or more employees should publish their COVID-19 risk assessments, and it’s something that you can expect employees to ask to see before they return.

In addition to ensuring that all your standard risk assessment and Health and Safety processes are still in place and that the workplace is safe in general, you need to conduct a COVID-19 specific risk assessment to make sure that your people are going to be confident about their personal safety.

Government guidance

The government has recently published a set of guidance on its website, to help businesses of all types get ready for a safe return to work. The guidance covers eight separate types of working environment:

• Construction and other outdoor work
• Factories, plants and warehouses
• Labs and research facilities
• Offices and contact centres
• Other people’s homes
• Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
• Shops and branches
• Vehicles

Guidance includes things like assessing social distancing risks and requirements. So employers should be thinking about how staff arrive and leave, how they move around buildings, how to keep workspaces and workstations safe, how to manage in-person meetings, how to adjust to new rules for common areas such as kitchens or break-out spaces, and how to process accidents or security issues.

It also suggests that employers should think about the need for PPE, and when it should be used, how to clean workspaces so that they are as hygienic as possible and how to manage potential visitors to the building.

Protecting vulnerable workers

It’s also crucial that employers consider who should return to work – not just when and how. Workplaces are all likely to have employees who are self-isolating, who are shielding because they are vulnerable, who currently have COVID-19, and who are just nervous about having more contact with others. This may involve individual conversations rather than a blanket policy, and employers should be clear about this before they encourage a return to work.

Employers also need to start thinking about how they are communicating return to work to employees, and demonstrating that they have undertaken a full and comprehensive risk assessment, and the results of that assessment in terms of new ways of working. Employers may also want to consider putting up posters or notices that explain and remind of new measures, demonstrating that they have assessed current risks.

Finally, risk assessment in this situation is likely to be on-going, as more people return to work, or the situation changes, so be prepared to conduct regular reviews for the time-being.