Covid-19: Why risk assessments are so important

Employers have a duty of care to their employees; this duty of care is the principle behind keeping people safe in the workplace. Covid-19 is a health and safety issue, and in light of the unprecedented pandemic, the need to assess risk within your business, particularly as people return to work and harvest season approaches, has never been more important. 

In order to protect people from harm, you must take necessary precautions and all steps deemed reasonably practical to protect your workers, whether employed or self-employed, against the virus.

With the emphasis currently on heading back to work and remaining operational, we would suggest that the need for appropriate risk assessments on farm is of the utmost importance. A Covid-19 specific risk assessment will aid you with both the management and protection of your workforce.

We would suggest you consider the following

  • Identification of workplace activity or situation which might cause transmission of the virus, for example the sharing of vehicles and machinery on farm.
  • Consideration of the most vulnerable within your team and those who might be at increased risk, such as individuals over the age of 70 and those with underlying health conditions.
  • Thoughts regarding likelihood of exposure and transmission on your site(s).
  • Where an activity or situation is likely to increase exposure, and therefore risk, it should be stopped if possible, and if not, reasonable control measures should be put into place to minimise the risk.

A risk assessment should demonstrate an understanding of the additional hazards that Covid-19 poses to your business, and the steps you need to take in order to control these hazards.

It will be important to review your existing risk assessments, particularly in relation to CoSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health). Firstly, because Covid is a zoonotic disease and therefore subject to CoSHH regulations; and secondly, key factors in vulnerability to the virus include existing health conditions such as Farmer’s Lung caused by exposure to dust, which would be addressed in an effective CoSHH risk assessment.

We would advise that particular care should be given for vulnerable individuals and that specific risk assessments are conducted for those classified as high risk.

It is worth mentioning that the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will shortly resume “targeted proactive inspection work of high-risk industries” and that the work carried out will “check that appropriate measures are in place to protect workers from Covid-19”.

Having a coronavirus risk assessment in place will assist in demonstrating that you have implemented reasonably practical control measures to ensure the health and safety of your employees, in line with legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

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