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IOSH urges “risk intelligent” return to work

11 May 2020

BUSINESSES PREPARING to reopen workplaces must be risk-controlled and put health and safety first – to avoid becoming “places of transmission” of the coronavirus.

Leaders must thoroughly plan and organise the reopening process, using good risk intelligence from health and safety professionals, who can help ensure that proportionate safeguards and controls are in place.

This caution comes from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to detail this Sunday how lockdown restrictions can be gradually eased once Government criteria are met.

Ahead of this, the Government’s draft plans for getting people back to work were sent to some businesses and unions. They have been reported in media outlets to include physical shields and staggered shift times, but concerns have been raised about gaps in the guidance.

IOSH, the global chartered body for occupational safety and health professionals, anticipates that before businesses can open any workplaces up, they will have to conduct thorough risk assessments. So it is making guidance on this available, the latest in a raft of information and support that IOSH has provided its members and their organisations throughout the pandemic.

These risk assessments, IOSH says, will highlight the steps businesses need to make to ensure their premises are safe to open. Measures are likely to include redesigning processes to allow for physical distancing and also ensure adequate ventilation, plant inspection, hygiene arrangements and personal protective equipment in their planning. Awareness training around Covid-19 and ongoing monitoring and mental health support should also be factored in.

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Regulatory Engagement at IOSH, said: “Health and safety must come first. People shouldn’t re-enter workplaces until employers are certain that they’re properly managing the risk of infection and providing the support that workers need.

“Prevention has to be the focus because, if organisations don’t get this right, workplaces can become places of transmission.

“How do they ensure they get it right? This is where occupational safety and health professionals have a key role, providing good risk intelligence and awareness-raising and helping to design processes, whether it’s staggered shift patterns to support physical distancing or improved ventilation and hand and respiratory hygiene. Forward-looking employers and their workers are already benefiting from this sort of advice in their plans for a ‘new normal’.”

Other measures which businesses can consider include creating safe one-way systems around buildings, to avoid people crossing each other in corridors, and minimising the number of people required on the premises at any one time.

They must also have arrangements in place for any suspected cases of Covid-19 going forward, requiring those with symptoms not to enter the workplace.

Duncan Spencer, Head of Advice and Practice at IOSH, said: “We must be clear, it is the responsibility of business to assess significant safety and health risk; this includes Covid-19. Good risk assessment will help to identify measures that will reduce the risk of infection to staff and any other users of the workplace.

“Throughout this pandemic, IOSH has been a friend in difficult times. We have been providing support and guidance for our members and businesses and we will continue to do so. With so much focus currently on recovery and return to workplaces, we are now providing guidance about how this can be managed safely, including what should be included in a Covid-19 risk assessment.”

As well as the risk assessment guidance, the resources IOSH is developing other resources to assist with the return to work process, including a webinar recording. This adds to a wealth of guidance it has produced throughout the pandemic, including guidance on managing the risks faced by healthcare workers on the frontline and tips on ergonomics and mental health concerns for people homeworking.

In addition, it has collaborated with partners like the World Health Organization to run a series of informative webinars for members and businesses and also with the International Labour Organization and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.