Covid-19 Risk Assessments
As businesses manage the return of staff to work premises and the continuing operation of buildings through the pandemic, a number of issues need to be considered for the safety of those entering buildings.
To help you decide which actions to take, you need to carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment, just as you would for other health and safety related hazards. This risk assessment must be done in consultation with unions or workers.
Undertaking that risk assessment may require advice from competent persons, such as professionally registered health and safety practitioners. Willis Insurance & Risk Management (Willis IRM) can help guide you through these processes.
Outdoor / Pavement Risk Assessments
Over the course of the last 12 months companies in all sectors, and particularly in the hospitality sector, have had to change and adapt their working practices to ensure compliance with Covid-19 guidance and restrictions.
Government guidance and restrictions have changed on a regular basis in an attempt to combat the spread and transmission of Covid-19. Unfortunately the impact on hospitality businesses has been significant, with many companies attempting to find methods which enables them to generate revenue.
One such method was the utilisation of outdoor spaces to ensure they could benefit from the maximum capacities, whilst complying with the Covid-19 restrictions.
Prior to utilising the outdoor space, companies were required to conduct a specialist risk assessment, with consideration given to hand washing, social distancing, capacity numbers, as well as everyday hazards such as the impact on the public including slips, trips and falls etc. Willis IRM have successfully assisted a number of clients in completing the specialist risk assessments, ensuring suitable control measures were introduced. We then liaised with the Local Council to gain approval for the use of the outdoor space by the client.
Recent information provided by the Executive would strongly indicate that the utilisation of outdoor space is again going to play a key part in the re-opening of the sector – in March 2021 the Government changed their campaign message to “Hands, Space, Face, Fresh Air”.
Our team can assist with utilisation of outdoor space available, completing the specialist risk assessment and seeking approval from your Local Council.
With the reopening of the hospitality sector, this will mean a return to work for a lot of staff who have spent a vast amount of time on furlough throughout 2020 and first few months of 2021. Whilst the return to work will be an exciting prospect for many, for some it will be a daunting experience. Anxiety levels will be high due to the continuing fear of infection, social isolation but in addition job and pay security has been a particular concern for many. Many staff who have been furloughed may have taken up alternative employment, however the vast majority will not have worked for a long period of time excluding the brief periods of easing of restrictions.
The hospitality industry, like many others have had to make rapid changes to how they operate including planning for the return of staff to work. It is important to consider how to communicate the plans with staff effectively. We would advise that you write to your employee to inform them that they will be returning to work when this is determined, setting out the end date of the furlough period and outline briefly the health and safety measures which have been implemented. Whilst employees are required to be available to return to work, it is recommended that a reasonable period of notice is given.
Given the duration of the periods of furlough for many of the staff, to avoid any issues with performance and to effectively engage with staff it is important to use the return to work as an opportunity to consider any necessary training or highlighting the standards of performance expectations required. We would suggest a re-induction process is held for returning staff would be hugely beneficial in assisting employees on their return, but it also allows an opportunity for the Company to set the standards and communicate any new plans for the business.
Managers/supervisors should be encouraged to have an informal one to one return to work meeting with each returning employee, focussing on health, safety and wellbeing and other considerations as set out in this guide. This is an opportunity for managers and employees to have an open discussion about any measures which have been taken to protect staff at work and any additional adjustments or support that may be required. Employees should be encouraged to speak to their manager if they have any individual concerns.
The key point of this meeting is to demonstrate the support being given to those returning to work and to deal with their concerns sensitively and to reassure them that the appropriate measures have been taken to minimise the risks to health, safety and wellbeing.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Lockdown has been a difficult time for all and for lots of different reasons. However there has been a certain comfort in following rules that for the most part were clear. With lockdown restrictions beginning to ease, feelings of uncertainty may begin to re-emerge and adapting to these changes can present new challenges. These can manifest in feelings of anxiety, anger, low mood and fatigue to name a few. Many employee benefit products will provide employee assistance programmes and mental health support and this is a good time to explore what is available to your employees and communicate that availability. If you are not aware of what is available to you, our Employee Benefits Consultants can carry out an audit report and make recommendations. Mental Health training programmes are also available for employers to help identify and support those with mental health issues. At Willis IRM, we can help guide you through options to find the best fit.
Returning to work
The Health and Safety at Work legislation requires you to provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of your employees. This is particularly important when people return to work, on exposure to new or increased risks (e.g. Covid-19) and where existing skills may have become rusty or need updating.
Developing communication and training materials for workers prior to returning to work is key. Consider the following:
- General workplace induction including:
- Covid-19 precautions
- Fitness to work policy
- Fire awareness
- Emergency evacuation
- Personal protective equipment
- Manual handling
- Electrical awareness
- Relevant work equipment (e.g. deep fat fryer, ladder use etc.)
Willis IRM are able to provide an online induction training solution to compliment your own site specific induction, which would cover the local hazards and control measures.
Indoor ventilation and reducing Covid-19 cases
Building ventilation is always an important part of a healthy building environment as it brings a stream of outside air into the building and removes stale air. Ventilation is also a very important way of diluting any airborne pathogens within the stale air (including Covid-19) and there is good evidence showing that room occupants are more at risk of catching an illness in a poorly ventilated room than in a well-ventilated room. This is because in a poorly ventilated room occupants are exposed to a higher concentration of airborne pathogens, and the risk will increase with a greater amount of time spent in such an environment.
To minimise the risks of airborne aerosol transmission the general advice is to increase the air supply and exhaust ventilation, supplying as much outside air as is reasonably possible. Recirculation or transfer of air from one room to another should be avoided unless this is the only way of providing adequate ventilation rates to all occupied rooms.
Willis IRM are able to assist property managers in assessing their property ventilation risks and advise on suitable solutions, using professionally registered engineers.
Avoiding Legionnaires’ Disease
When properties stand empty for several weeks or longer, unused by humans, other serious issues can arise that are far removed from covid-19. Unseen and potentially forgotten during a pandemic, bacteria such as legionella can take advantage of being left alone in a disused water system. The risk of legionella spreading through the water system to cause serious risk to health is clear – and it is one that cannot be ignored.
Any man-made water system, whether it uses hot water, cold water, or both, can run into problems within a matter of days. Typically, a water system that’s left unused for 10 to 14 days is all it takes for legionella and other potentially harmful bacteria to begin colonising a water system.
Calling in a water safety specialist such as Willis IRM to conduct a detailed risk assessment and make sure all your water systems are safe to use once more is an investment well worth making.
Deep Fat Fryers
Now that businesses are planning to reopen after a long period of inactivity, some issues that should be reflected on to ensure your property remains safe.
Deep fat fryers are one of the most common causes of kitchen fires. Willis IRM have spent years helping businesses of all kinds reduce the risk of fire, and for any business with a kitchen, we always start with the fryer.
There are several ways that businesses can significantly reduce the risk of deep fat fryer fires:
- Cleaning and oil management:
- Dirty cooking oil ignites at lower temperatures, so it’s important to change it regularly.
- All fryers and ductwork should be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis in compliance with TR19 Standard as defined by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA). Inadequate inspection and cleaning of ductwork allows for rapid fire spread and extensive damage.
- Consider process and equipment controls:
- Make sure you have the right risk assessments, processes and controls in place.
- More importantly, make sure these are trained out to all staff, and that managers and operators know how they work.
- Regular maintenance:
- Audit and inspect fryers and associated control systems regularly to ensure correct and safe operation.
- Ensure planned maintenance is carried out and recorded
Willis IRM can help you and your business navigate best practices in order to reduce your overall fire risk.
Other property issues to consider when emerging from lockdown
Electrical safety checks are required under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 & BS7671 (18th edition electrical regulations). A competent electrical contractor should be consulted about any requirements to restart electrical systems and the Electrical Contractors Association provides guidance.
Gas safety inspections and maintenance are still a statutory requirement and have not been suspended due to the coronavirus. The Gas Safe register provides guidance. It may be practical to isolate gas supplies in the first instance.
- Fire detection system testing and maintenance must be brought up to date. Active fire protection systems such as sprinklers, fire suppression and smoke control systems, fire extinguishers etc. should have up to date maintenance and inspections.
- Fire doors and emergency exit routes should be checked for obstruction during the lockdown period and that closing or opening mechanisms are still operating correctly. Any changes to escape routes or assembly points may need signage to be changed.
- Emergency lighting systems must be tested and demonstrated to work fully and effectively and batteries checked by conducting a full 3 hour test. BS5266-1 Emergency lighting and BS EN 50172 Escape Lighting apply, along with Society of Light and Lighting Guidance in Lighting Guide 12 on Emergency Lighting.
- Lifts and escalators Passenger lifts and lifting equipment must comply with the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) requirements. The maintenance contractor should confirm that the lifts are compliant and fit for service, although their use should be discouraged wherever possible.
- Where heating systems have been isolated, annual pre-heating season service checks should be undertaken prior to restarting the system.
- BMS systems should be checked to ensure that operation is as expected, and any changes regarding ventilation rates, building opening times, etc. are implemented. Plant operating times may need to be extended to accommodate changes to working hours and patterns.
- Access control and Security systems, these may need to be reviewed to ensure operation is still as expected, or for isolation of certain areas of the building. Timings to operation or occupancy may need to be incorporated into the control system to accommodate staggered or shift working.
- Portable appliances, simple user checks should be sufficient to establish the safety of portable appliances such as kettles, microwaves etc, where an existing portable appliance testing (PAT) system regime is in place. However, use of such appliances should be carefully considered as they present a potential risk of transmission via surface contact.
- Specialist services, where appropriate, expert advice should be sought in relation to specialist services such as generators, UPS systems, catering equipment, process cooling, fume extract systems etc.
Contact us one of our experts for more information on any of the areas in our guide.
Colin Willis, Director, Employee Benefits email@example.com
Joe Hanna, Head of Risk Management, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wes Barker, Health & Safety Consultant, email@example.com
Christine Crawford, HR Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org
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