Workplace 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.
While the complexity of risk assessments will differ from business to business, they typically involve the following steps:
Identifying the hazards
When it comes to COVID-19, businesses need to think critically about their exposures, particularly if an infected person entered their facilities. When identifying hazards, it’s a good idea to perform a walkthrough of the premises and consider high-risk areas (eg breakrooms and other areas where people may congregate). It’s also important to consider what tasks employees are performing and whether or not they are especially exposed to COVID-19 risks when performing their duties.
Deciding who may be harmed and how
Once you’ve identified hazards to your business, you need to determine what populations of your workforce are exposed to COVID-19 risks. When performing this evaluation, you will need to make note of high-risk individuals (e.g. staff members who meet with customers or individuals with pre-existing medical conditions).
Once you have identified the risks facing your business, you must analyse them to determine their potential consequences. For each risk facing your business, you’ll want to determine:
- How likely is this particular risk to occur?
- What are the ramifications should this risk occur?
- When analysing your risks, consider potential financial losses, compliance requirements, employee safety, business disruptions, reputational harm and other consequences.
With a sense of what the threats to your business are, you can then consider ways to address them. There are a variety of methods businesses can use to manage their risks, including:
- Risk avoidance: Risk avoidance is when a business eliminates certain hazards, activities and exposures from their operations altogether.
- Risk control: Risk control involves preventive action.
- Risk transfer: Risk transfer is when a business transfers their exposures to a third party.
- For COVID-19, control measures could include cleaning protocols, teleworking procedures and mandated personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.
Monitoring the results
Risk management is an evolving, continuous process. Once you’ve implemented a risk management solution, you’ll want to monitor its effectiveness and reassess. Remember, COVID-19 risks facing your business can change over time.
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.
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.
Gas safety inspections and maintenance are still a statutory requirement and have not been suspended due to the COVID-19.
- 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.
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