Returning to the Workplace: Employer’s Guide to Risk Assessments

June 17, 2020


As the lockdown restrictions are slowly beginning to ease, employers are faced with some challenging decisions as to who should return to the workplace first, when should the workplace re-open, and how should they adapt to the new way of working.

Amongst these challenges, employers should also prepare a workplace risk assessment to manage and assess the risks and exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

What to include in a risk assessment

The starting point for all employers is to consider the hazards relating to the transmission and exposure of COVID-19 in the workplace. The most obvious hazard is the potential outbreak of the Coronavirus amongst employees as this will put everyone at risk, and would require immediate control measures in place in order to eliminate further transmission of the virus.

Amongst many potential hazards might be the lack of personal hygiene amongst employees, the sharing of equipment and hot-desking, the limited number of entrances and exits to the workplace, and the lack of social distancing between employees. If you’re an employer in Wales, you must remember that it is now a legal obligation to ensure that your employees adhere to the 2-metre social distancing rule whilst at work.

For every identifiable hazard, you must be clear on who might be at risk, and who might be at even greater risk, as this will help you identify the best solution to reduce risk. There is no requirement on you to list every individual’s name, but rather identify the groups of individuals at most risk. Consider whether you have any workers who may be classified as clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable – such employees who may be over 70 years old, are pregnant, have an underlying health condition, have had an organ transplant or are undertaking chemotherapy for cancer.

Consideration must also be given to individuals other than your employees. Are you contractors, clients or visitor also at risk to the transmission of COVID-19 whilst at your workplace? If so, this must also be reflected in your risk assessment.

You are not expected to eliminate all risks, but you need to ensure that you are fully aware of the main risks that your workplace poses on employees, and the actions required from you to manage those risks responsibly.

By adopting some of the following preventative measures, you will be minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 to your workers, customers, clients and contractors:

  • Use screens or barriers to separate employees from each other

  • Keep employees 2m apart wherever possible, including when sat at their workstations

  • Increase the frequency of surface cleaning

  • Provide more handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser

  • Implement a hygiene policy

  • Create one-way systems

  • Use floor markings

  • Open more exits and entrances

  • Limit the number of individuals at the workplace at any given time

  • Stagger arrival and departure times

  • Maximum occupancy for lifts and corridors

  • Provide additional parking (including bicycle parking) facilities to eliminate car-sharing and use of public transport

  • Encourage employees to bring their own food, refreshments and cutlery to reduce contact points in communal areas

Communicating with your workforce

The UK Government’s COVID-19 Secure Guidelines recommend that you share the results of your risk assessment with your workforce. It is also recommended that employers who employ over 50 individuals publish their risk assessment on their website. There is no requirement on employers to publish all documentation created in relation to the risk assessment, but rather the practical steps that you will be taking in order to ensure a successful return to the workplace.

A comprehensive and well communicated risk assessment will not only satisfy your legal obligations as an employer, but will also give your employees confidence that they are being looked after when they return to the workplace.



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