The arrival of COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on workplace health while working from home introduces further hazards and complexities. Let’s look at the risks associated with COVID-19 and workplace health and discuss the hierarchy of controls to protect your workplace.
1: Identify the hazards.
A hazard is anything that may cause harm. The hazard (threat to health) that has most prominence currently is serious illness and death from the biological hazard of COVID-19, but those hazards inherent in your workplace will remain. if individual employees are working from home then further hazards may emerge; for example the physical impact of use of laptops at workstations not optimally set up, and the impact on mental health from being isolated as well as exacerbation of existing mental health problems. HSE provide guidance on home working at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm#.
2: Decide who might be harmed and how.
This will depend on the nature of your business but is likely to include your employees and contractors that work for you, customers and suppliers. Some of your employees may also themselves be more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19 than others.
3: Evaluate the risks and decide on control measures
The risk is the likelihood, low to high, that somebody could be harmed by the hazards identified, combined with the impact – the seriousness, low to high – of the harm to a person. For COVID-19, this is the likelihood of contracting the virus, and how serious that would be for everyone. Testing is detailed in our Covid 19 services page – take a look and get in touch …
For COVID-19, there is the complexity that some individual employees are at higher risk of serious harm, so it will be necessary to ensure that the likelihood especially of them coming to harm is kept as low as reasonably practicable.
The message from a public health perspective is to adopt measures that reduce the risk of transmission to as low as reasonably practicable, to protect the more vulnerable.
The hierarchy of controls
The hierarchy of controls applies to protecting the health of the workforce from COVID-19 just as for managing the risk of harm from other threats to health.
Elimination – in the context of the worldwide pandemic, it is not possible to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Substitution – replacing the process with a less hazardous one may be feasible. For as many as possible to be home working will reduce the likelihood of transmission.
Engineering controls – using work equipment or other measures to separate people from the hazard. You may be familiar with guards on dangerous machinery; clear plastic screens may be set up to separate your employees from customers. This may for example be appropriate in local authority customer service walk-in centres.
Administrative controls – these are methods to reduce the time/amount of exposure. The Government’s requirement for social distancing – keeping at least 2 meters from others – is an example. This may also include measures to ensure spacing of those coming into your premises, and appointment systems. Guidance for employers includes advice on how social distancing can be achieved in the workplace, providing generic workplace guidance and examples for specific sectors
Personal protective equipment (PPE) – PPE is needed if the above measures do not control risk to a reasonably practicable level. Social distancing is an effective control measure to reduce likelihood of exposure in most contexts outside health and social care. Facemasks are not recommended in most employments, but PPE may be needed where there is significant residual risk that cannot be controlled with social distancing or other risk management control measures.
The Government advise employers to keep everyone updated on actions you are taking to reduce risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. This is an essential element of risk management as advised by HSE.
4: Record the significant findings.
As advised by HSE for all risk assessments. This is important as this informs briefing, training, and leaflets. The Government advise employers to keep everyone updated on actions you are taking to reduce risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. This is an essential element of risk management as advised by HSE. Recording also enables review and later assessment of the effectiveness of controls. The effectiveness of controls may be identified through the following public health/occupational health measures:
Biological monitoring (testing for the virus and/or antibodies) – testing for the presence of the virus and antibodies is available from the SKC OH Hub This will inform risk assessment.
Health surveillance/intervention – in time immunisation should become available. In the meantime, the only healthcare intervention is symptomatic treatment.
5: Review your assessment and update if necessary.
It is essential to review the effectiveness of control measures, and update these, accordingly, as advised by HSE. This will include the effectiveness of training needs identified in risk assessment. It may also allow identification of any unintended consequences, e.g. the impact of home working.
For further information:
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide guidance on risk management at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/controlling-risks.htm , and specifically on COVID-19 at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm#.
Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss the Covid risk management and health needs of your business https://suchantry.com/contact/