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COVID-19 Healthcare: How will the health and safety risk assessment of systems of work change?

  • Market Insight 14 May 2020 14 May 2020
  • UK & Europe

  • Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the most significant challenge to the UK in decades. In turn, many individual employers are facing near dislocation of their normal systems of work. Though this has resulted in many employees being confined to home, almost the opposite has occurred in the health sector where a significant number of additional employees are required and where existing staff are being requested to supplement frontline clinical staff.

COVID-19 Healthcare: How will the health and safety risk assessment of systems of work change?

Re-assessing risk

The assessment and management of risk is always a careful and analytical approach that seeks to identify early areas of potential or likely harm to employees (and internal visitors). Whilst for a civil claim, negligence has to be proved rather than just breach of any regulations, the combatting of this type of disease will merit consideration under the stricter provisions of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health legislation. For this and associated reasons, the existing assessment of risk may no longer be applicable for a range of reasons, some of which could be:

  • Raised likelihood that weary colleagues may make mistakes resulting in risk to their colleagues
  • Insufficient health assessment of vulnerable employees
  • Setting and monitoring of workloads
  • Overarching risk related to employees covering for sick colleagues
  • Upon admission, any failure to identify the condition early (via testing or well established procedures) may result in employees treating patients without necessary precautions being in place
  • Without relevant and fuller protective equipment employees should not be working in close proximity to patients with a high disease load
  • Staff may be undertaking work that they are not specifically trained to do or experienced in doing
  • Any absence of support and replacement of staff may lead to unavoidable extension of shifts and the consequential potential for overwork

Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires re-assessment to be undertaken. Specifically, it details that “any assessment… shall be reviewed by the employer if:

a) There is a reason to suspect that it is no longer valid; or
b) There has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates…"

An open and focussed revision of previous working patterns, shifts and the overall approach to each key area of the work in question may well be required.

Using a focused approach

Ensuring the health and safety of employees so far as reasonably practicable will be usefully evidenced if there is a focused approach to re-assessing the altered risk profile. Where the standard social distancing advice is impossible in a healthcare workplace, the setting of suitable and sufficient risk assessment and coordinating the system of work will help to prove that, far from any alleged recklessness, the employer is acting appropriately and provably in line with advice from government, experts and industry bodies. 

This advice will be updated very regularly and in turn we shall issue bulletins covering not only application of the updated advice but also its practical impact on the profile of emerging claims.

Authors: Jason Bleasdale and Iain Fraser


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