What is a Covid-19 risk assessment?
Why do you need one? How is it different to normal risk assessments? Let’s find out.
In a previous post, we discussed the difference between a hazard and risk. For the last six months, we have all experienced a new hazard, a highly infectious virus called SARS-CoV-2, the thing that causes the disease Covid-19.
Normally a risk assessment will assess an area of work, a task or an activity and identify further measures that can be implemented over a period of time to supplement existing ones with the aim to continually lower risk – however in this case, because the hazard is new (Covid-19) and the risk is so great (potentially death), we need a separate risk assessment which considers just this one risk, a Covid-19 risk assessment.
Covid-19 is high risk and difficult to control because we can`t see it, we can’t be sure who is carrying it and the fact that it can be transmitted through the air between people and that it can stay active on surfaces and objects for a long period of time. On top of that, consider the fact that some people could be healthy carriers of the virus who may carry and transmit Covid-19 to other people, surfaces and objects but never actually become ill themselves. Also, consider that some people can carry the virus for up to 14 days before eventually becoming ill, therefore they could be spreading the virus and potentially infecting may people in the process.
The fact is, that this infectious agent can make you slightly ill, maybe it can damage you permanently or maybe it can kill you, the trouble is that we don’t really know what the final outcome will be if we contract it, so we always need to consider the worst-case scenario i.e. the fact that it can kill you!
So look at it this way, imagine we had someone dangling from a 100ft building by a harness painting the side of a building, if we didn`t have really strong and robust control measures in place to prevent them falling, then we can say that almost certainly the worker would be killed if they fell. Just the fact that someone could easily die is very scary, but do we necessarily have that same level of fear regarding Covid-19?
In a hospital or nursing home, the answer is yes, but walk down the high street on any typical day and you may think otherwise. We need to realise………yes, it can kill you.
So if we now think of another workplace, a typical restaurant, we can put a certain level of control measures in place in regard to protecting our own staff, who we are familiar with as we work with them every day, however, our customers who are vital to the business, we know very little about. We hope and pray they are not ill or carrying the virus, we don’t know where they have just been previously, we don’t really know anything about their lifestyle or their immediate family’s state of health, so really we have an unknown quantity which is going to be very difficult to control.
Think of all the interactions within a typical day when staff interact with other staff and staff interact with customers, now, every one of those interactions has to be considered because every interaction has a risk. Don’t forget, what about the contract cleaners, the suppliers, the contractors, even more interactions that need to be controlled. If we are to risk assess this properly then we have to be sure that every interaction has adequate control measures in place that will remove or reduce risks to a level that is low enough that gives us, our staff, our customers and everyone else affected by our business, the confidence that it is safe to enter, work and operate within the premises.
We implement our control measures, manage and monitor them diligently because they hopefully prevent bad things happening!
We carry out our risk assessments because it is a legal requirement and can have dire financial implications if things go wrong, but at the end of the day, we also have a moral and ethical obligation to not harm our fellow human beings.
Okay, I know it might sound melodramatic but let’s face it, the bottom line and the worst-case scenario is that someone can die from this
So to conclude, a Covid-19 risk assessment is required because the hazard is so difficult to control and the level of risk is so high. It should be completed on its own, as a separate exercise from your other risk assessments.