03 July, 2020
"To become blind to previously obvious matters as a result of a temporary impairment of the mind caused by a global pandemic, mass lockdown and/or over-indulgence in alcoholic beverages during said periods".
"Sorry I forgot to put apply the handbrake; I had coronablindness."
If you have been keeping tabs on the Government's guidance on working in the construction industry during the pandemic (please make sure you do), then you will most likely be aware of its fairly detailed advice for employers. If you have not, read it all here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/construction-and-other-outdoor-work.
However, one thing that I keep hearing time and time again is various versions of the following question:
"That's all well and good for (insert name of inferior company/organisation/industry), but how are we (proper company with real problems) supposed to do that?!"
It is a difficult conundrum. By handily spoon-feeding us with guidance, the Government has also created a benchmark that it expects employers to meet. If you don't, can you legitimately claim to have thoroughly addressed your collective mind to the risks to employees and third-parties post-COVID?
So how do you cut through all of this and, hopefully, streamline the process? Well, stage one is to get together all of your current risk assessments (RA) in one place. Consider whether each applies any more at all, or in part. Where one does not, put it on the "no" pile. If it does in part, put it in a separate pile, and if it is still wholly applicable then leave it where it is; no point wasting time with duplication.
Stage 2. Now consider whether you can draft addenda to each RA in the "no" and "partially" piles dealing with the new risk of COVID-19 in the context of the matter the existing RA deals with. If you can, that is probably the most comprehensive way forwards. If you cannot, you need to consider drafting a new COVID-19 risk assessment dealing with that issue alone as an overarching document to the other RA's. You should mention in that RA that all other RA's and work instructions still apply unless specifically withdrawn. That should stop people thinking that they can do something they wouldn't normally do, just because they are trying to, for instance, keep socially distant.
Stage 3. You need to walk through each of the processes on site to see how they may change in the light of COVID. You need to consider from beginning to end, from when people get changed in the morning to come to work to when they go home at night. What they will wear, how they get to work, where they will park, how they enter the site, how they move around it, how they do their jobs, how they use the toilet, eat, drink, wash, and how they interact with other people. How will you control numbers on site, keep people separate, and work out what signage you need, where independent contractors may come from and when, and what deliveries you are expecting?
Many companies approach risk assessing as a management task, but that is not the correct approach, especially in the current climate. The legislation requires employees to take reasonable care for their own safety. The workers want to be safe and you want them to be; it's a collaborative process.
If you try to sift through absolutely every task that an employee might carry out, you will no doubt miss something. If you take away one thing from this article I want it to be this; get your staff involved. There is nothing wrong at all with asking each person to assess their own work systems to see what risks there are to them. You will have to direct them of course, but if you ask them to work out how they might contract or transmit the virus, who they generally work with, what activities require them to be in close proximity, whether they have any ailments that make them particularly vulnerable, and how they think that processes could be improved or made safer, then you are 60% of the way towards bespoke risk-assessments for every task. Use online or paper questionnaires, form staff "task forces" or focus groups, appoint Supervisory staff to be COVID-leaders; whatever works for your organisation.
The final stage is to take all of that data and place it in categories. Again, whatever works, but some will be umbrella or overarching guidance (keep two metres away unless it is impossible not to) and some will be specific "wipe down all forklift controls after use". Drag that in to your new or addenda risk assessments and then, most of all, apply it and do so properly.
Whatever you do, do not contract coronablindness. Your job is to reduce risk of injury to the lowest level reasonably practicable for all processes, not just the general risk of contracting an illness in otherwise healthy adults. There is only so much you can do; don't let the risk of infection detract from the often-greater risk of serious injury or even mental illness that has persisted ever since construction began.
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