Staying ahead of the shifting sands of COVID-19 Workplace Safety
Just how does a small business successfully navigate through the rules governing a safe return to work? This task is made all the more difficult by the ever-changing advice and direction from the Government such as the relaxation of the 2m social distancing rule and the recent tightening of the rules on wearing face coverings in shops.
Staying on top of these regulations and still managing to run a successful business will be the challenge faced by many enterprises over the next months and maybe longer as a second peak of infection in the autumn and winter are a distinct possibility.
Imposition of swift local lockdown restrictions adds a further challenge to small businesses. No one wants to be at the centre of a local lockdown. But the reality is that protecting your own business is not sufficient if others in your neighbourhood or town are less thorough.
The answer is of course applying all the most effective control measures you can and sustaining those controls over a period of time until better treatments or a vaccine becomes available.
A new expert service is available at www.Covsafe.co.uk.
Developed by Ian travers, a former Deputy Director of HSE in partnership with web designers NoticeBoardTv, the COVsafe App allows users to carry out a full COVID 19 risk assessment and produce a report tailored to their specific work environment. The report can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF and the App also comes with a knowledge base where users can get expert advice on all aspects of COVID 19 safety in the workplace.
Ian said, “I have been inundated with questions from managers and business owners since the Government announced the easing of the lockdown and began issuing specific guidelines for every sector of the economy. I wrote a couple of spreadsheets to send out to people to help them cover the basic requirements but the Government Guidelines are very detailed and quite complicated.”
The UK Government has issued thirteen separate guidelines so far covering a wide range of business activities from construction to hairdressers. The guidelines cover all aspects of operating the business and contain nearly forty pages with between 150 and 200 separate items to be checked.
“Every business is unique so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ensuring an individual enterprise operates safely under the new conditions,” says Ian. “In my 40 years in health and safety I have never seen a challenge like the one we are facing now in every workplace in the country. It is going to take a long time and a lot of hard work before we get the safest operating procedures in place to eliminate the risks of coronavirus to people at work.”
Ian points out that the challenge facing small to medium enterprises presents special problems. Larger companies have specialist health and safety departments to tackle COVID 19 safety provisions. Smaller companies rely on a single health and safety officer who is often a volunteer from within the workforce.
“The Guidelines are the same for every business and organisation in the country whether you employ 5 people or 5,000,” says Ian. “Big firms will hire outside safety consultants to help sort things out, but smaller enterprises won’t have the budget for anything like that.”
To add to the problem, the recent spike in Coronavirus cases in Leicester is a game changer for enforcement of compliance with the health and safety rules that apply to UK businesses.
“The media reports of businesses disregarding the basic control measures leading to the imposition of a local lockdown has heightened the need for strict adherence to the Government guidelines and this will undoubtedly lead to more pro-active enforcement by HSE and local authorities.”
Ian points out that The UK Government and the Health and Safety Executive have now signalled they are stepping up spot checks on compliance within businesses. Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued further warnings from the Government about non-compliance. Asked if there was a link between employment practices in Leicester and the outbreak there, Mr Hancock described guidance for employers as “statutory guidance” backed up by fines. He warned that the Government has the authority to shut down a business if it does not follow the guidance.
The COVsafe App that Ian has developed is designed to help smaller businesses bridge the gap in the resources available for tackling the safety issues presented by COVID 19. Users can log in and select their particular business sector before answering a list of questions which take them through every item to be covered. The App allows users to save their work as they go so they can log off and return later and share the work in progress online with colleagues.
“The App won’t do the work for you,” says Ian, “but it will ensure that you don’t miss anything out.”
The Government Guidelines stress that the COVID 19 risk assessment should be carried out in consultation with all employees and the COVsafe App allows users to send a link to allow others to see the assessment in progress and make a contribution. The assessment can also be printed off at any stage or projected on a screen for a progress meeting.
The knowledge base that is included with the App gives direct access to expert advice from Ian and his team. Users can send in a question anonymously and their question and the answer will be published for all users to read.
“We can help with any problem no matter how trivial. Quite often the daft question is the one that everyone wants to ask”, says Ian.
A one-year subscription the COVsafe App costs £45 + VAT and
is available at https://www.covsafe.co.uk
The subscription includes 24/7 access to the risk assessment and online support in using the App. Users will be automatically alerted to any change in any of the Government Guidelines and advised if they need to amend their risk assessment.
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