Workplace Distancing & Risk Assessment
Staff | Customers | Clients

At the time of writing an increasing number of businesses are considering the return of staff to their offices and the re-opening of their premises, with many staff having been working from home.

Written by Chris Grimson | Advocate

The obvious question for employers is, how does a business arrange for the safe return of staff when social distancing is still both a legal requirement and of course necessary to minimise the risk of COVID-19 re-emerging?

Key to the safe return of staff is workplace distancing and risk assessment. The assessment of risk in work places has been a legal requirement for Isle of Man businesses since 2003 although it is fair to say that many employers remain largely unaware of how the process works in practice. In these COVID-19 times, risk assessment should always take place before an employer begins returning staff to its work premises.

Risk assessment is a process which is governed by regulations, so it is essential that legal advice is taken as part of the risk assessment process so that a business can ensure that it is meeting the requirements of the law.

In addition, currently the older regulations are bolstered by the constantly shifting guidance being issued by government in response to the evolving COVID-19 situation, which clearly adds an extra level of complexity to the process.

Obviously the arrangements which an employer puts in place to enable staff to return to work premises need to allow for the required degree of social distancing but in the majority of work places that will not be a straight forward process. The flow of foot traffic needs to be predicted and allowed for, not only in regular situations but also at times when there may be unusual events such as emergencies, visiting contractors or indeed clients and customers of the business whose attendance will also need to be planned for to ensure that traffic routes are properly organised.

Key elements of work place organising will involve measures such as signage, floor markings, delineated foot traffic routes and in some cases the placing of staff to ensure that the requirements are complied with, particularly in retail premises.

Generally speaking, for work places that will see the regular attendance of clients and customers the degree of risk assessment and implementation will be substantial and complex and in the absence of proper advice, businesses who re-introduce staff and who open to the public are risking not only potential criminal action but also possible civil claims by staff or customers who contract COVID-19 after attending the premises. Of course there will be difficulties for those who do contract the illness in proving that they did so as a result of attending the premises in question, but for civil action to be successful the standard of proof is only on the balance of probabilities.

So. in other words. if a civil court were to feel that it is more than 50% likely that the staff member or customer contracted COVID-19 as a result of attendance at premises which were not properly risk assessed and organised so as to minimise the dangers posed by the illness, it is quite possible that civil action could be successful. Even if such action failed, defending any such claims would cause the business the inevitable cost and disruption which would flow from having to engage legal assistance not to mention an increase in premiums if the business had to call upon its legal expenses insurance in order to defend actions bought against the business.

It is essential that any return to work for staff in these times, and indeed the return of clients and customers to such premises, is properly organised in order to meet the legal requirements. From a business point of view, showing that you have put proper thought and preparation into the risk assessment process and then the implementation phase is half the battle – if a business were to be sued in such a situation, it is far less likely that the firm or company would be found liable if it can show that its procedures had been properly thought out and implemented, even if a staff member or customer did appear to have contracted COVID-19 on the premises.

Workplace Distancing & Risk Assessment | Our team are here for you…
Here at MannBenham we can assist you with an examination of your situation and appropriate advice and assistance in relation to risk assessment, its implementation and the requirements of the various regulations and guidance which govern this area. Do not hesitate to contact us if you are considering moving staff back to your work premises, allowing the return of clients and customers, or indeed if you are a staff member or other individual who has concerns about a particular environment which you are having to attend in these difficult times.

So, please contact us on 01624 639350 or via email at enquiries@mannbenham.com to talk to you directly or we can arrange a convenient time to call you back, either by telephone or video call.