The HSE Executive recently published guidelines on how COVID-19 incidents should be reported. RIDDOR reportable incidents include:
‘An unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to Coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Coronavirus.’
These guidelines have huge implications for office-based workers once lockdown measures are relaxed. Although many employees are now working from home, or furloughed, this cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. Businesses can expect their H&S management systems to come under increasing levels of scrutiny as a return to normal life becomes imminent. There will be a continued threat of virus exposure in the workplace until a vaccine has been widely distributed, which may take a year or more. So how should businesses adapt their health & safety management systems to deal with the continued threat of COVID-19, in a post-lockdown society?
For many office-based businesses, risk assessments have typically been used to quantify fire safety and ergonomic risks. Employees have rarely been exposed to the sort of danger as commonly occurs in sectors such as construction. However the COVID-19 virus can easily spread in an office environment through shared facilities and close contact between employees. If we take a look at the HSE Executive’s guidelines, ‘reasonable evidence’ of exposure at work is enough to warrant a RIDDOR report. It is therefore important that businesses introduce a proactive risk assessment scheme to identify areas of risk, before they become a danger.
The easiest way to manage incidents of exposure is through a mobile safety observation system like Emex. Unlike a risk assessment, which seeks to uncover areas of risk, safety observations are a proactive way to manage unsafe behaviour. If an employee notices symptoms, they can easily report this through a mobile safety observation. Likewise, if they proactively notice a breach of best practice – for example, if office equipment has not been properly sanitised – a safety observation is the fastest way for this issue to be alerted.
Proactive Workflow Management
One of the key issues with a paper-based system is the inherent inefficiency in dealing with outstanding actions. An old fashioned risk assessment requires the user to email the person in charge to negate the risk, then follow up to check that this has been completed – not to mention updating the spreadsheet or filing the form! Likewise, a RIDDOR report is a time-consuming process. If the HSE Executive’s guidelines are to be followed, many businesses that never needed to file such a report may need to do so frequently. At Emex, we recommend instituting a proactive workflow management system, alerting key users to outstanding issues, enabling them to be sorted quickly, with the administration completed automatically. And if worst comes to worst and a RIDDOR report needs to be sent, we’ve got you covered.
A New World of Risk
No-one knows how long we will be on lockdown, or what the procedure looks like for easing quarantine restrictions. COVID-19 will forever change the way in which occupational risks and hazards are managed in industries which were previously regarded as low-risk. Working in an office – what is now an extremely high risk environment – will be heavily regulated. It is important that businesses consider the future of health & safety management before the time comes to re-open shop – or they may find themselves unprepared for a post COVID-19 world.