What are the existing legal obligations to conduct a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk for a workforce, and where particular characteristics require it, for individuals?
It is the individual assessment by an organisation of its Covid-19 risk in its workplace that will be central. There may be common features across sites or areas of a site but every workplace will have a different risk profile depending on the service it offers and the workers who deliver those services. No one size fits all.
The context of managing Covid-19 risk is the need to tie in with UK government guidance and HSE advice – which despite being a lot more comprehensive than it was, is not a panacea and will continue to evolve. The difficulty we have with this in the context of the known increased risk to BAME employees from Covid-19 is that our understanding of the risk is, we would suggest, at a pretty early stage which makes it more difficult to address. However we know the increased risk exists and we owe our BAME workers a duty to manage that risk and keep them safe.
We also have a duty to consult employees. This is critical in managing this risk – ensuring BAME workers have a loud voice in the assessment process will be very important.
Where an individual has a particular characteristic, for instance they’re pregnant, they have physical or mental disabilities etc, the law requires us to look at that individual or, where it is a group, that group of individuals and assess the risk to them and take any reasonably practicable steps to control the risk to them.
Risk control hierarchy is key. In “normal” businesses we reduce our Covid-19 risk by keeping people away from the workplace – “avoid, eliminate and substitute” then changing work practices (e.g. social distancing measures) before we arrive at PPE. In a healthcare context, we arrive at PPE a lot more quickly.
We need to ensure our people are given sufficient information, instruction and training so they can do their jobs safely and we must consult workers and involve them in workplace safety – this is going to be critical in the context of Covid-19.