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Return to Work Risk Assessment

Hazard Related Topics

Planning the Return to Work and the Return to Work Risk Assessment or 'RA' is extremely important when reviewing the return to work post COVID-19 arrangements. An employer will carry out a return to work risk assessment, this will depend on the organisation, sector, workforce and premises.

Understanding the staff anxieties about a safe return to work is crucial for employers, and a business owner needs also to consider the workforce demographics and individual vulnerabilities, this includes age, pregnancy, mental health and relevant illnesses.

Plans for social distancing at work should consider the workstation layout but also other parts of the workplace and the commute. For those that that work in offices, this can be achieved by rethinking the current office layout to consider 'social distancing' requirements. Along with this the numbers of staff in the office may have to be reviewed.

Site and office egress and access must be controlled to limit numbers of people and to ensure social distancing; and, to ensure anyone entering the building is kept safe, attention for reception and lobby areas to ensure any visitors (and staff) are kept safe. Perhaps consider no visitors initially, then, over time, introduce visiting but in a controlled and monitored way.

There would need to be consideration regarding the use and numbers of people in shared areas, like toilets, lifts, canteen, kitchens and copying rooms in office buildings.

Additionally, there is a requirement for suitable restrictions and signage for distancing in these shared areas. Signage is a great way of reminding people of any requirements, but you can also use other signage, like posters, notices, email and updates to your web site to keep staff informed and up to date.

In certain work environments tape and safety plexiglass may play their part in a workers' set up. This is an option to mitigate any residual risk to the employee. However, be mindful, is it a necessity? Could other measures be put in place that are equally as safe?

The same goes for PPE, Personal Protective Equipment. PPE should be considered as a last resort. If there are other ways and measures that can be put into place by an employer, then PPE should not be used unless 'absolutely necessary'.

In all cases the business will need to update their Health and Safety Policy, and any associated documentation, to reflect any required changes to operational activities, staff safety and any required measures to keep all staff and visitors safe while on site.

An employer will need to also consider cleaning arrangements; this is to ensure the staff return to a clean and safe working environment as well as arrangements and schedules for continued office cleaning versus social distancing requirements. An employer may also wish to provide 'self-cleaning sheets' for staff workstations so that they are responsible for their own areas. Along with this sanitation of phones and 'touch points' within the office (such as door handles) would be part of the Risk Assessment process and actions required must be thoroughly detailed.

Additionally, your employer may have to make changes to shift patterns in order to minimise staff contact. For example, staging staff returns to work or the changing of shift patterns and perhaps consideration on start times to stagger entry and exits to the building. Along with this your employer may need to introduce 'one way' systems for corridors and stairs to adhere to the social distancing measures.

Arrangements for shared vehicles need to be considered, how will this be facilitated if absolutely necessary? What measures need to be in place? Plus, a review of any onsite parking may need to be undertaken, maybe even make parking spaces bigger to accommodate social distancing requirements?

Another area that may affect office staff is that of Air Conditioning and any Ventilation Systems – Are they clean? Do they need regular cleaning? Are they necessary? What we are looking at here is the 'Legionella' issues (like standing water, filters and so on) as some buildings have not been in use for some time. What are the risks versus the benefits to the staff in their environment? Remembering that Air Conditioning and Ventilation systems 'may potentially' pass on the virus.

More robust hygiene measures may need to be introduced; for example, your employer may state the need for hand gel in key areas and posters may need to be displayed regarding hand washing and social distancing measures for both staff and any visitors.

The return to work risk assessment is crucial to ensure a safe environment for all staff and visitors. A risk assessment identifies the hazards that need to be overcome and the measures required to ensure a safe environment. Any subsequent COVID-19 'Phased Return to Work Plans' must refer to the risk assessment for the working environment and any measures required to keep all staff and visitors safe.

Finally, any required mitigation measures need to be set out for the staff to follow, this means updates to associated policies AND all staff will then need to be 'educated' to ensure the mitigation of risk is understood fully.

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