After months of adapting our lives to the COVID-19 pandemic, government guidance changed in July 2021, removing the need for restrictions in the UK. The news was welcome to many businesses, some of which had previously been unable to open or left to operate at a reduced capacity.
However, the threat of coronavirus has not disappeared. While most of the UK adult population has now been vaccinated, cases remain. When announcing the end of lockdown measures, the Prime Minister warned that the pandemic was not over, and it would be the responsibility of the public to take a cautious approach to prevent further peaks.
Following the announcement, guidance for employers has also changed. While companies no longer have to implement measures like social distancing and mask-wearing, there is still a duty to protect employees and prevent workplace outbreaks. If you run a business, you may also be keen to do whatever you can to stop any further impact on your operations.
Due to the ongoing hazard of coronavirus, it is wise to carry out a risk assessment, even now restrictions have ended. This assessment will help you identify the dangers to your specific workplace so you understand the protocol to put in place and safeguard against infection and disruption.
In this guide, we explain how to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in light of updated guidance, so you can protect your business and staff while returning to normal as safely as possible.
- Consider local risk
- Ask what you need for productivity
- Examine the risk areas
- Decide what measures to continue
- Communicate with your workforce
- Continue employee testing
- Refer to guidance
Consider local risk
At the end of 2020, local lockdowns took place across the country in response to case rates in specific areas. Following the end of overall restrictions, the government has not ruled out the return of local lockdowns should high case rates or new variants emerge in specific areas.
Due to this factor, it is worth considering the local risk where your business is based in your assessment. If transmission is high locally, it might be a sign that you should implement more stringent measures to reduce the risks of outbreaks in your workplace or your employees having to isolate.
It is also essential to listen to your local authority and follow their guidance. This may differ from general government guidance. By implementing the proper protocol, you can do your part to reduce cases locally, preventing you from getting affected by area-specific lockdowns. This will assist you in your post-pandemic recovery, rather than grinding to a halt once again.
Ask what you need for productivity
While social distancing is no longer a requisite, it is still one of the most valuable tools in preventing the spread of coronavirus. If you are able to minimise the number of staff working in an area whilst maintaining distancing, case rates should continue to drop .
The key is finding the balance between what you need for productivity and safety. If employees can do their jobs at home without inhibiting your operations, consider allowing them to do so. This will also reduce the number of employees mixing, meaning there’s less chance of an outbreak if a positive case comes onto site.
Similarly, you might consider using shift patterns that reduce the number of people present at one time. If you have been utilising these measures through the pandemic, many workers will already be used to changes in process, which should make it easier to prolong them.
On top of the risk of coronavirus, you also need to think about the ‘pingdemic’, which has seen many people asked to self-isolate after contact with a positive case. This has disrupted industries, with staff shortages and temporary business closures. By reducing the number of staff in your business, you can also reduce the chances of multiple workers being asked to isolate, which would leave you unable to operate.
By offering home working, you can also avoid the effect on productivity by allowing them to carry on doing their jobs while they self-isolate.
Examine the risk areas
Your risk assessment needs to account for all the areas that present a danger in your workplace. These will predominantly be areas where people work closely, such as bathrooms, breakrooms, walkways or workstations. Other risk factors could include having visitors on-site or crowding around entrances and exits.
Understanding the risks areas will help you to put the appropriate processes in place. For example, if specific areas tend to get busy, it might be worth limiting capacities or encouraging wearing masks in communal spaces. Staggered break, start and finish times can also control the flow of people around your premises to minimise contact between workers.
While none of these precautions are legally required anymore, if you feel there is a threat to your workplace, it may be worth implementing them anyway.
Another option is to allow staff to make their own choices while encouraging them to be cautious for their own sake and others, such as through signage and comms. This will address the risk while allowing your staff to take the necessary measures to feel comfortable at work.
Decide what measures to continue
Some measures may be harder to enforce at work, especially now government guidance has changed. Factors like social distancing can be impractical, while many of your workers may prefer not to wear masks during the day.
However, other measures should be easier to implement and will limit the risk of coronavirus. One example is ventilation, either through open doors and windows or air conditioning, which helps airborne coronavirus particles to disperse away from your employees.
Another example is hand hygiene. Effective hand hygiene in the workplace by reducing the spread of coronavirus through contact between skin or surfaces. It will also help to limit the transmission of other infections, such as flu and cold, reducing overall sickness across your workforce.
Continue to encourage your staff to wash their hands properly through the working day or provide hand sanitiser to giving them constant access to hygiene, even when busy or on the move.
By incorporating these low-effort measures, you can continue to uphold safety at work without impeding your employees’ time or harming your productivity.
Communicate with your workforce
One of the barriers employers will have to overcome when returning to ‘normal’ is staff anxiety regarding returning to work. For the best part of two years, many employees may have been working from home or working in an adapted style to protect their health. Naturally, the thought of coming back to a busy workplace might be concerning, especially as COVID cases are still common.
To make the transition easier, you should talk to your employees to find out any fears they might have and encourage them to come to you with any issues they experience. A recent study found that 60% of UK workers think their company needs to improve the working environment to protect staff health. By having these conversations, you can understand what your staff need and set the appropriate protocol.
This helps you show workers you take your responsibility as an employer seriously and care about their safety. It will make them more comfortable upon their return, leading to a happier, more motivated workforce that fuels your post-pandemic recovery efforts.
Continue employee testing
Coronavirus can be a silent enemy, with people often not even knowing they have it and are risking other people. The only way to be sure is to get tested.
While the hazard of coronavirus lingers, it’s sensible to continue workplace testing. Unfortunately, the government-backed free testing for businesses, which enabled many to set up in-house testing facilities, has come to an end. However, you can still purchase tests for your workplace or pay an approved provider to run testing.
If you cannot introduce testing at work, it is worth encouraging your staff to test themselves at home. Test centres are still open around the country, offering free tests to individuals, or your workers can order free lateral flow tests to their homes.
With testing, you should be able to identify positive cases, even if they’re asymptomatic, and stop those people from coming to work and infecting their colleagues.
Similarly, you should ensure that anyone who does test positive, is asked to self-isolate or has symptoms stays at home and feels comfortable doing so. This means removing any deterrents, such as pressuring employees, threatening disciplinary action or docking pay due to them having to isolate. Again, this will minimise the impact on the rest of your workforce and keep more of your staff safe.
Refer to guidance
The pandemic has been an unprecedented time. There are no certainties with COVID-19, and nobody knows what the future will hold. The government has refused to rule out future lockdowns, depending on case levels and variants. As such, there is every chance businesses will need to return to restrictions again.
By keeping abreast of the changing picture of coronavirus, you can continually react to the threat and implement timely precautions into your workplace. Refer to guidance on a national and local level, and make sure that your working environment aligns with the advice given to you.
This will empower you to be prepared for whatever may come next, building your resilience and ability to adapt to changing risk.
Although it may be tempting to think the pandemic is behind us, there is still risk present worldwide. We all hope cases will continue to fall, but the possibility remains that we could experience another peak – which would put businesses and individuals at risk.
While we wait to see how the pandemic unfolds, you need to do what you can to continue to protect your business and employees. Undertaking a risk assessment, in complete understanding of updated requirements, will enable you to analyse the threat to your workplace and decide appropriate precautions.
By doing so, you can reduce the chances of an outbreak happening at work, helping you to promote staff safety, maintain productivity and move forward.
If you are struggling to understand what measures you need to have in your workplace in the current stage of the pandemic, we can help.
We use updated guidance to safeguard businesses, employees and customers. We can discuss potential tools that may support your workforce, allowing you to fulfil your duty as an employer and promote productivity.
We also provide solutions like the Orbel hand sanitiser, which effectively kills germs even on the move. It’s already been used in healthcare settings and even by the NFL.