The new workplace: reopening after Covid-19
As some of us make plans to move back into offices and business premises, it’s important to reassess our risks in the post-covid workplace. If your team will continue to work from home, you have a duty to provide a safe workplace, so don’t forget to review your employers’ liability insurance to ensure it responds to these new arrangements.
Neil Adebowale, who leads our Sports & Leisure insurance team, has put together a comprehensive 50-page Risk Management Guide for Gyms and Health Clubs, and lays out some key principles of managing premises-based risk that is relevant for most premises after long term closure.
Post COVID-19, there are new risks to consider, including:
- Civil liability: there’s a potential liability if you fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Public perception and reputation: for customers to continue to visit your premises, it’s essential that you create confidence that it’s safe to do so, and that all the right measures are in place. Creating a visual trail of all the steps you’re taking is important. Communication with customers is essential to this. The perception of an unsafe facility could be very damaging and clearly an actual outbreak linked to the premises could have a detrimental effect on your business.
- Public authority enforcement: local authorities, along with Public Health England, will be watching the pattern of new COVID-19 cases very closely as lockdown measures ease. Intervention from a public authority could have a serious impact on your reputation.
Against this backdrop, don’t neglect all the normal risks of running your premises. After a long period of closure, it’s important to make sure staff are ready and trained, equipment is in working order and the building is ready to receive employees and visitors.
The 7 P’s for reopening your premises
- Promotion (and communication)
- Paper trail
Risk assessment: a specific COVID-19 risk should be provided, which considers risks to customers, employees and other visitors to the premises. Identify risks, evaluate the risks (likelihood and impact) and then decide on suitable control measures. For more information on risk assessments see the online government resource available here. This should be the starting point for all planning which then informs your procedures, training and communications.
Be patient: there is a lot of work to do and you need to allow the time to complete it. Some control measures may require adapting the premises or purchasing items which may have a lead time.
Talk to others: speak to people from outside your organisation at an early stage. This could include cleaning experts, colleagues in your sector and, of course, your friendly insurance adviser.
- Employees: consider staff requirements. Are there any vulnerable individuals (for example with underlying conditions)?
- Consult with your people: the HSE has produced a guide about working with your staff to prevent coronavirus.
- Mental wellbeing: do not underestimate the impact the lockdown may have had on the mental wellbeing of your staff. Some employees may have also been personally affected by illness or bereavement.
- Training: schedule a refresher with staff on training and additional training for new procedures.
- Other visitors: as there will be a need for contractors and other visitors to the premises, ensure these are considered in plans and communications.
Promotion (and communication)
- Website: make new procedures clear to customers. Particularly highlight any which will be essential prior to attendance.
- Signage: additional signage will need to be created with new rules and procedures for customers. Some of the key messages will be social distancing, use of sanitisers, warning to stay away if you have symptoms etc.
- Booking confirmation: if you take bookings and procedures at the premises have changed, then this should also be highlighted on the booking confirmation.
- Staff communication: informing and keeping staff up to date with any changes in procedures will be really important in the lead up to the opening and once opened.
Our partner Stallard Kane is a ready resource for Partners& clients with advice, checklists and resources to inform the design of your health and safety procedures – just contact us for an introduction.
- General building checks: an in-depth check will be required on the premises to ensure it’s safe for staff and visitors to re-enter after being closed for a substantial period of time.
- Fire risk: pay particular attention to fire risk including checking fire exits, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting etc. Fire Risk Assessments should also be reviewed in light of the changes, such as fire evacuation points and the impact of social distancing. Also, consider how to store hand sanitiser safely as this is flammable.
- Equipment: ensure all equipment is in working order prior to opening – you may wish to consider an external inspection. Any equipment that is subject to statutory inspections under LOLER, PSSR or other regulations must have its documentation up to date. This would include any lifts or coffee machines.
- Training: staff need to be aware of all new procedures and be appropriately trained to deliver this.
- Refresh: don’t forget the importance of refreshing staff training on your standard procedures. The highest risk of a claim still remains from your normal activities, not from COVID-19, so make sure you get back to good habits to minimise injuries and keep users safe.
- First Aid: staff may also need a refresh on first aid procedures. You should also discuss and clarify with them what to do at the moment. If you decide that social distancing has to be set aside to deal with emergencies, this is fine, as long as staff know and are clear on this point.
- Soft launch: consider a soft launch to test your new procedures. Perhaps at the start, you can lower capacity to ensure staff are clear and able to operate with the new procedures and that they are working effectively before allowing more people in.
As always, documentation will be key to evidencing all reasonable measures have been taken. This is important both for any personal injury claim but also any Environmental Health or HSE investigation or prosecution. Some of the key documents that should be available are:
- Revised risk assessment/COVID-19 risk assessment
- Updated fire risk assessment
- Updated standard operating procedures
- Messages on your website
- Updated booking confirmation – highlighting new rules
- Updated waiver
- Staff training records
- Equipment inspection records
- Cleaning logs
- Records of safety briefing
While this is not an exhaustive list of all measures you need to consider, it is designed to help you with your plans for reopening physical premises.