17 March 2020

The issue on many people’s minds at the moment is “what should I do about coronavirus?”. Every business has a legal duty to look after the health, safety and welfare of its staff and other stakeholders. In the current environment of a rapidly changing world event, this is a challenge and Covid-19 is leaving many people unsure how to proceed.

As a health and safety professional, my first answer to nearly every question I am asked is: “do a risk assessment”. Cue much eye rolling and groans about “too much paperwork” and “health and safety gone mad”.  But really, if you are asking me what I think you should do about something, this means you haven’t got the answer at your fingertips, which in turn means that there are probably quite a few things to consider before making a decision.

In order to make any sensible, proportionate decision it is necessary to have all the facts set out in front of you, and a risk assessment helps you to do this in a logical manner.

Whether you are considering travelling or going into people’s homes to carry out maintenance work, or continuing work on a construction site, you probably have concerns. While there is a wealth of information and opinion about the virus, and when and how to self-isolate or moderate your social life, there is seemingly very little useful advice about how to conduct your daily work life, or your business.

So, to make the decision about what to do, carry out a risk assessment.

Steps towards making your decision:

  • Think about who is going to be affected in the event that you or one of your workers contracts the virus. Will it be just that person, or will they infect other people? Do they have close family or friends who are in high-risk groups? Is your worker in a high-risk group him- or herself?
  • What is the potential outcome if you or one of your workers contracts the virus? Is it likely to result in death or just a few days off work? What impact does it have on your business if you or your workers have to take time off sick? How severe is this outcome?
  • Now, consider the likelihood of the virus being contracted. We don’t know the real numbers of people infected in the UK. Today the official figure stands at around 1540, but the government told us yesterday that as many as 50,000 people may be currently carrying the virus. This equates to around 7 people per 10,000 population.
    • Are you going to be working in an area where there is a high concentration of the virus?
    • Are people where you are working more likely than others to have contracted it from elsewhere, for example are you working among or nearby people who have recently travelled from badly affected areas?
    • Are you likely to be touching surfaces where the virus might be?
    • Will you be making close personal contact with other people?
    • Are you or your workers able to carry out their work while maintaining a good distance from others?
    • Does travelling to or from work make it more likely that you or your workers may contract the virus?
    • How will you protect others in the event that one of your workers displays symptoms?
  • Once you have worked through the severity of contracting Covid-19 and the likelihood of doing so, you can put these together to assess the overall risk. You may use any scale that works for you: high, medium, low, or maybe a numeric scale, say 1-5, where 5 is high severity and / or likelihood and 1 is low.
  • If your overall risk is acceptable, then you may make the decision to carry on with what you were intending to do.
  • If your overall risk is unacceptable, what control measures can you put in place to reduce the resultant risk? If you have high numbers of senior management travelling, could you only send one or two, to reduce the risk to your business? Can you counteract the risk by ensuring you practice good personal hygiene, or carrying out the work a different way? Can you do the work at a time when fewer people are around? Can the work be carried out elsewhere?
  • Consider your severity and likelihood ratings taking your control measures into account. Your overall risk should have reduced. If it has reduced far enough to be acceptable, ensure that all people concerned are fully aware of the controls they must put in place.

If you decide to make changes to your planned work, make sure that you also consider the impact this might have on your business. Reducing one risk by increasing another is not usually the best course of action, but we find ourselves in an unfamiliar and rapidly-changing situation.  It’s really important that you take time to consider carefully every aspect and don’t make rushed decisions that you may regret later.

If you need any help please get in touch. I don’t have all the answers but I can help you with your risk assessment.

Essential reading:

The situation is changing even as I write this. Keep yourself up to date with latest government guidelines and health guidance here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/