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Covid-19 and returning to work…

Many businesses are looking to re-open after shutting down or reducing operations due to Covid 19. However, re-opening can present specific hazards, which if not planned or managed properly, can result in damage, injury, legal action, and further disruption to your business.
Where production is either scaled up or scaled down (compared to the pre-shutdown period), there can be increased risk of fire, explosion, injury, machinery and plant damage or breakdown. This might be caused by several reasons like production overload, delayed maintenance cycles or frequent start-up / shut down periods.

Also your business operations and activities may have changed over the last few months, for example, you might be using different raw materials due to supply chain challenges or perhaps you are producing different products, keeping an increased level of stock, introducing different processes or procedures or changing shift patterns and staffing.

These changes might introduce new hazards or exposures into your workplace. So, you should look at reassessing and adapting your safe systems of work and working procedures, training, fire, and security protection systems.

The planning and initial actions you take in getting your business back to ‘fit for purpose’ are often critical and provide a safe working structure within which you can successfully recommence operations.

Remember if you have furloughed staff, you will need to consider the timeframe agreed for bringing them back into the workplace, so allow for this in your planning arrangements. If you cannot create a safe working environment, whether that is because of inadequate fire protection, security, unsafe
machinery / plant, employee competency or implementing COVID 19 precautions, then those operations should be postponed until corrective measures can be put in place.
Review existing risk assessments and actions to ensure these are still relevant to the operation of your business. Make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure a safe working environment for your employees onsite, offsite and working at third party premises. This includes safe systems of work / working procedures.

Where your business operations and activities have changed, then new risk assessments should be completed, and the results and actions shared with your employees and any visitors or contractors.

Remember to include fire and security precautions in your review, implementing changes and enhancements where necessary to maintain an appropriate level of protection. For example, you may need to increase the scope of fire or intruder alarm detection, change opening or closing procedures or revisit sprinkler protection to ensure this remains adequate with changes in storage, layout, processes, stock materials. Further support can be found on our health & safety risk assessment, safe systems of work, and fire risk assessment pages of the risk management section of our website.

Undertake a thorough inspection of your site. This includes all buildings (interior and exterior), utility services, machinery / plant, stock, any hazardous operations, emergency back-up systems and safety equipment. It is important to find and fix any unsafe or abnormal conditions such as damage, maintenance issues, leaks, faulty safety and emergency systems, improper housekeeping or storage, signs of vandalism or theft. Our equipment checklist may help you.

Review emergency response procedures to make sure they are up-to-date and there is adequate coverage for assigned positions on all shifts, such as fire wardens, first aiders.

Allow enough time in your planning to recommission previously shut down machinery or plant and processes in line with all standard operating procedures (SOPs) and manufacturers ‘guidelines.

Complete and reinstate any inspection, testing and maintenance procedures (including those of a statutory nature) that may have lapsed since the shutdown. This might include utility services, machinery / plant, emergency systems, vehicles, fire, and security protection / detection systems etc.

Ensure your employees have the competence and capability for the work activities to be carried out, through the necessary skills, training, and licensing requirements. Additional employee training programmes or certification and supervision may be required.

Remember, where there is an insufficient number of competent employees, or new processes, machinery and plant require new skill sets they may need more instruction and information. Refer to your Return to Work policy (where you have one) as this will provide structure to make sure your employees are ‘fit for work’. Mental health and wellbeing should be considered as well as physical fitness.

Make sure you have competent persons to verify all protection / detection systems are in service and functioning correctly. This will include fire sprinkler / suppression systems, fire pumps, water supplies, fire alarm systems, intruder alarm systems, CCTV, and access control.

Carry out enhanced cleaning of the workplace, pre and post re-opening. It is important to pay attention to communal areas and touchpoints, such as washing facilities, toilet flush and seats, door handles and push plates, handrails, office equipment, machinery controls, food preparation areas. Do not forget to include company vehicles in your cleaning regime.

If you are introducing alcohol-based hand sanitizers into your workplace, it is important to remember these are flammable. As well as updating your fire risk assessments, make sure there are no ignition sources near where you are storing them. This includes electrical equipment, hot surfaces, smoking areas. You should ideally store them within purpose designed flammable liquid cabinets or steel cabinets.

Observe and enforce Covid-19 workplace restrictions in line with government regulations and guidance for example social distancing, floor markings, protective equipment, staggered working hours and breaks and digital rather than paper use.

Where these restrictions cannot be met, then work activities should either be revised to achieve them or stopped altogether. Guidance is available from UK Government, Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland, Public Health Wales and the HSE, or may also be available from trade / industry associations. Remember to include those employees working offsite and at 3rd party premises.

Review your business continuity plan including supply chain resilience and implement mitigation measures as appropriate, to reflect any changes to your business operation and lessons learned from the temporary shutdown.

Thank you to our insurer partners for their continued help and advice during these strange & uncertain times, for more information relevant to your policy please contact us

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