How individual employee risk assessments for staff complement other COVID-19 workplace health and safety efforts.
This week has seen the announcement of what seems an inexorable, if cautious, relaxation of lockdown. Employers are now considering what this means in terms of the timelines and practicalities of returning staff to workplaces.
One of the most vital practicalities is how to recognise and remove the risks of COVID for all returning staff who may have higher vulnerability. This will mean a far wider need for individual employee health risk assessments for staff than ever before.
One thing that we all are realising. COVID will be here for a long time, or even indefinitely. All employers must adapt.
Involvement in testing of workers is already encouraged and supported by Government at large employers and in key sectors. It is likely to devolve to even very small employers, too. Enabling the continued presence and health of employees is critical to renewed productivity.
Beware COVID risk complacency
The government’s scientific advisors have been at pains to point out that at no time should complacency creep in about the potential risks of COVID. That warning is apt when it comes to the preparations by employers to welcome staff back into work.
These preparations must go further than the effort to date in physical COVID workplace changes (such as screens, one-way systems, signage and sanitiser stations).
The processes they put into place to mitigate risks today must be robust enough to sustain them into the future.
They must be flexible enough to adapt to future unknowns – whether from new variants or waves of COVID, or from a future new pandemic.
They require suitable and secure platforms that give leaders the control and visibility they need to run their business.
Time to get personal with Risk Assessments for staff
Employers are aware that it is their duty to protect the health and safety of their staff. In the past, risk assessments (RAs) and other aspects of adherence to Health & Safety regulation have often been seen as a tick-box, one-size-fits-all approach. Organisation-level assumptions have often served them sufficiently to approach the risks at a role or staff group level. Risks for one driver or warehouse worker are sometimes deemed to apply to all similar workers. Risks present in a brand’s stores are often considered to apply equally to all of a company’s shop workers.
Although already required, most organisations only applied individual risk assessments on a relitively rare basis. The generic approach was never enough to cover individual circumstances. Yet, custom RAs were frequently considered only in exceptional circumstances.
This does not work in a COVID world where risks are hugely determined by individual health, genetics, and other personal factors. They are now essential in far more instances. Risks may occur when any individual could encounter COVID as part of their work – whether that is in interaction with people or not.
Recognising COVID vulnerability
There is an ever-clearer list of the factors for clinical vulnerability (CV) and clinical extreme vulnerability (CEV). These include gender, BMI, BAME status, economic deprivation and health conditions such as diabetes. Organisations will need to show they have recognised and recorded these individual risks. They will need to hold the necessary conversation with each such person, and check that they can obtain the advice they need from a health professional. They must prove they have responded to those needs with appropriate interventions, work adjustments or work placement changes to remove COVID risks from their employee’s role.
Embracing individual risk assessments far more widely is key to achieving this.
For some employers, a wholesale change of risk assessment strategy is already in play. Some are moving from a policy of selective or as-needed individual risk assessments to individual risk assessment for all staff. This has two significant impacts. This will reduce risks to the organisation and its staff by identifying all those potentially vulnerable to the risks of COVID. It will also go a long way to helping reassure employees. After a bruising experience, employees need to feel that their employer understands the vital importance of their personal health. They will value a sense that their employer wants them to feel safe at work.
Risk assessment is only the start
More proactive, intentional and effective employee health management will be vital for every organisation. It is not just a question of assessing the risks once as workers return or take up furloughed roles. Organisations must reassess these on a regular basis, and connect them to all the related activities and processes of workforce management.
A return of more workers to the workplace will necessitate even tighter management of absence and of returns to work by HR teams and managers. This is particularly so if that absence is COVID-related. The ability to connect absences due to COVID with streamlined testing processes that can enable faster returns is vital. LFT testing will also only be effective with a solid process for tracking results and taking action on positive outcomes.
Range of risk resources
Employers must do individual risk assessments if any of their staff are at risk from COVID. This must be in addition to their wider workplace risk management actions. The aim must be a COVID-secure work environment for all.
We encourage employers to take advantage of the many resources that exist to support them in managing risk assessments. There is significant help at the HSE website. This COVID-age Toolkit from the Society of Occupational Medicine shows how individual COVID vulnerability is assessed. NHS Trusts can additionally benefit from information from NHS Employers and the BMA, among others.
Protection must be for all staff
The NHS vaccination programme is doing much of the heavy lifting of reducing the likely risks from COVID. However, the onus still remains on every single employer to assess those risks for their staff. It means taking vaccination into account appropriately when staff have had it. However they must also protect those that remain unvaccinated or cannot be vaccinated for any reason. They must take any actions necessary to ensure the workplace is safe for each and every individual. For more clinically vulnerable people it may even mean changing their work placement.
Empactis Health Manager enables a range of practical COVID-19 solutions for the NHS and for corporate organisations. It is just one of the modules of the cloud-based Empactis Health Management System . It enables organisations to manage and track the risks related to employee health. This includes managing, tracking, recording and providing manager guidance around individual RAs. These can be based on any chosen COVID Risk Assessment or Age tool. It can connect to COVID testing and vaccination status tracking, absence processes, OH management, and securely consolidate any related data into individual employee health records.