Please note: This interview was held on 19th June when current Government policy was to adhere to a 2m social distancing rule.
We spoke about:
- What needs to be considered when preparing a Covid-19 risk assessment
- Working in a confined area while still applying the two-metre rule
- Monitoring those who are breaching the new rules
- How to deal with visitors and contractors to your site
- Finding the most up-to-date guidance
Please note: Due to lockdown limitations video quality is low. A full transcript of the call is below.
Lee Boswell (LB): “I’m here today with Gavin Dearsley, Director at Alan Boswell Risk Management. We’re getting a lot of inquiries and questions surrounding ’emerging from lockdown’ and what businesses need to do to prepare for reopening. So, we decided we’d do a little bit of a chat with Gavin, find out some of the answers to some of the common questions. So first of all, hello Gavin. How are you?”
Gavin Dearsley (GD): “Hello Lee. Very well, thank you.”
LB: “Many businesses are now reopening and others will be preparing to reopen. They all need to complete COVID-19 risk assessment. So what sort of items, what sort of things should be considered as part of that?”
GD: “Well, there’s some common themes, obviously, which will apply to all businesses. But just as a bit of a proviso at the start: each business will be very different. Some of the key things that would need to be considered would be things like just making sure staff are aware of the symptoms, aware of [the fact that] you can be asymptomatic and still transfer the virus to individuals, asymptomatic obviously meaning that you don’t exhibit the symptoms that are known, making sure the staff are aware of what to look out for, so they’re not bringing the virus in, in the first place. So communication is a part of your risk assessment.
“Also, there’s a possibility that you might have an individual who comes down with the virus, while they’re at work, who might start to cough, might start to get an increased temperature. So it’s important you have a procedure for that; have a designated area to isolate them, make sure they’re supported and get them away from other staff in a safe manner. Send them home and ask them to self-isolate and get a test to find out whether or not they have actually got the virus.
“Then it comes down to the really common things that we see now being adopted all through the supermarkets and where we go out and our daily lives, such as increased hygiene. So, additional hand washing, when you come into work, before you have your lunch, after you have your lunch and so on. Sanitising stations, so if you do touch the surface, you can easily sanitise. Some companies, I’ve been working with, are also providing individual packs of wipes to staff so they can wipe down surfaces, mugs, pens that might have been shared by somebody else, that type of thing. Just trying to minimise touch points around the offices, around the business place. Things like sharing the pens, like I mentioned, on a visitor’s book. That can have several touches a day by different people, which can actually increase the transmission risk. So avoiding those types of shared pens, shared stationery. This this is not very nice, I know, but just not making cups of coffees and teas for each other. If somebody is asymptomatic with the virus they could potentially touch the surface of several mugs of staff making a cup of tea or coffee, which we all do from time to time, and that increases transmission risks.
“Then it comes down to all the social distancing requirements, trying to avoid passing each other in corridors. Some people are marking out lines and implementing ‘pause points’. So there’s a confined area, like a kitchenette, or a toilet, they put a ‘pause point’ there. So a knock on the door can be made to make sure that it’s free to go in and there’s no risk of the two-metre rule being breached. Siteing of staff around the office environment, you know, it’s best to avoid face-to-face desks, even if they’re slightly over two metres. It is still best to avoid that if you’ve got room in the office to have people sitting side-by-side, or back-to-back. Try and space people away outside of this two metres social distancing limit that we’ve been given. Where you do have to put staff closer than two metres or on that limit, if they’re face-to-face in particular, it’s really strong advice to have some form of barrier like a perspex or acrylic screen, so they can still see each other and interact. But there’s a lesser risk of transmission of any droplets between the two individuals facing each other, which could then increase transmission.
“Now, there’s a lot of mixed messages out there at the moment around face coverings in general office environments. The government’s advice, still, is that unless you are going to risk encroaching upon the two metre rule, then at general workplaces you don’t need to wear face coverings. However, they do state that individuals might want to wear them just because of anxiety around catching the virus. They might have an underlying health condition. In those situations, it’s really important that the business, manages that properly; communicates reasons why some people are wearing them. There’s advice on the Government website which company would need to provide where face coverings are being used.
“There’s other things that you should do once you formulate your risk assessment, which is really key. You must communicate the findings, the control measures, the additional signs and notices that you’re putting up around the workplace.”
LB: “How will the two metre rule work for businesses that are in relatively confined spaces? You talked about, you know, not passing each other in a corridor. What about tasks where you’ve got people who have to work in close proximity? What can be done to ensure staff and customers are safe?”
GD: “That’s a challenging one, but there are things that can be done. I think this is where a company needs to look at those tasks individually and risk assess each task, take each one on its own merit. Does it actually need to be done? Does it need to be done in the way it’s being done? Can it be done in an automated way, using equipment? [Or by] an individual rather than extra people? If those things aren’t possible, also thinking about things like face coverings would come into it if you’re encroaching upon the two metre rule. Clients who I work with, they’re also doing other clever things like asking staff to sign a daily declaration. So those staff that are having to work closer than two metres (on occasion, not all the time, because that should be avoided where it can be. But on those occasions where we have to encroach on the two metres), they’re asking those individual staff to fill out a health declaration form on a daily basis. Just to say, to the best of their knowledge, they’ve not had any risk of transmission, been near anybody who might have it, and they’re not exhibiting symptoms, such as an elevated temperature.
“And of course, as well as that, it’s making sure that – the key thing here, with closer proximity work – anybody with underlying health conditions really shouldn’t be doing those tasks. Once you’ve done your risk assessments, look at the tasks in hand, communicated the issues and have the protective measures [in place] to the staff and how they should be working around these higher risk-activities, it’s important that they sign up to those procedures and they’re aware of what they should be doing. And that’s monitored by the management team.”
LB: “Talk about monitoring. What do companies do if they see employees breaching those rules?”
GD: “Well, the HSE [Health & Safety Executive] have been very clear on this. They’ve been very clear. They’re providing guidance and information on their website in that they will be enforcing against companies that don’t take appropriate measures in-line with government guidelines for COVID-19. Now, it’s a difficult one this because we’re working in an alien landscape. It’s not normal. So, the way I’ve been advising clients is, you know, talk to your staff. If you see somebody who’s forgetting to sanitise when they should be, not wearing a face-covering when they should be, going to speak to a colleague too close, closer that two metres, I think a sensitive approach initially, because ultimately, these are strange times, and it’s important that we’re seen to, you know, communicate and try and work with our staff.
“However, obviously, you’ve also got to take into account those individuals who might be anxious around these things going on. So it’s getting the balance right. But you should be enforcing, that’s very clear. Verbal conversations, discussions, with your staff And [if] a repeat offender continues to breach the rules you’ve put in place regards COVID-19 you’d be expected to take action as you would any other health and safety regulation. You’d expect to discipline and go more formal, the more repeat offences were noted.”
LB: “What about visitors to your site? How are businesses expected to be ensuring that visitors are applying the same standards and principles?”
GD: “Yes, it’s a good question this, and there’s two different ways to go about this with visitors and contractors. Obviously, if you’re having a visitor on site, a single person coming on site, such as a health and safety advisor, like ourselves, it’s very sensible to ask them to confirm that they’ve had no history of exhibiting symptoms in the last 14 days, none of their family members and so on. It’s also important to make sure you’re signing visitors in and out of the premises, in an appropriate way, just so if there is an incident (the test and trace system that’s being adopted by the government) you know the history of people that’s been through the doors. So it’s important to monitor and record visitors, particularly at the moment, in the premises. That’s always been a requirement under fire safety regulations, but even more so now, so you know who’s coming through your premises door. And, of course, while they’re on site, they need to be following all of your rules and regulations around social distancing, not being given cups of coffee, if that’s your policy, from other people, that type of thing. So they got the same standards.
“In terms of contractors, it’s slightly different. If they’re coming on site, and as they’re a business it’s legal duty for them to prepare their own COVID-19 risk assessment. To be operating in a safe and secure way with COVID-19 amongst us at the moment. So they should be able to provide you a copy of their risk assessment for COVID-19 and their policies for the work they’re going to be doing for you, whether it be painting, decorating, electrical work. As well as the normal risk assessment requirements for the actual hazard task they’re undertaking.”
LB: “So there’s obviously a huge amount of conflicting messages. Lots of important stuff that people need to understand. So where would you recommend people get further guidance and advice?”
GD: “I have to say there’s good advice and guidance on the Government website (www.gov.uk/coronavirus), which has got loads of good information around all the things we’ve been talking about today: risk assessment requirements, symptoms, everything you need to know about the virus itself and it links into NHS and other relevant statutory bodies such as the HSE as well. And the HSE website has also got good information regards, risk assessment templates, guidance around if you have an employee who may have contracted the disease at work. About the requirements of reporting, and these types of things. And of course Alan Boswell Risk Management and other health and safety companies out there…we can give you advice as per these regulations just to make sure we distil it down and offer it to you in a practical way based on your premises and operations.”
LB: “Thanks very much for your time. As you said, if anybody does need to get any advice and would like to contact you, what’s the best way for them to do that?”
GD: “The best way for them to do it is to contact our risk management office, which is on 01603967900 or they can email firstname.lastname@example.org. That goes through to a central logging system and the office staff there will allocate the query to the appropriate advisor or engineer as appropriate for us to deal with the query.”