Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Scottish government releases Covid-19 workplace risk assessment tool

Out-Law News | 24 Aug 2020 | 12:26 pm | 2 min. read

The Scottish government has published an occupational risk assessment tool and guidance to support employers and employees returning to the workplace, with a focus on individuals and the need to carry out individual risk assessments.

The government said the guidance (9 page / 1MB PDF) was intended to complement existing occupational risk assessment processes by providing a means of assessing the specific risk of Covid-19 in an occupational context. It said that the guidance does not replace or exempt employers from existing legal obligations.

Health and safety expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said employers should take note of the document.

“Employers will need to carefully consider the significant administrative burden of compliance with the Scottish government guidance. The process will need to be carefully managed to ensure that all employees are captured, that individual risk assessments are aligned with Covid-secure risk assessments and operating procedures, and that individual risk assessments are be kept up to date as circumstances change,” Metcalfe said.

The guidance said there were three factors affecting the occupational health risk from Covid-19: the prevalence of the virus in Scotland; workplace considerations to protect staff from the coronavirus; and personal characteristics affecting an employee’s outcome from Covid-19.

The government said the reduction in the number of infections in the community in Scotland meant that there was now less spread of Covid-19 in Scotland, and less chance of being infected in the workplace.

Although the guidance focuses on minimising the impact of Covid-19 for individuals, it said it was important for managers to undertake a generic risk assessment of the workplace to minimise the risk of transmission to all workers, regardless of their vulnerability. It sets out a hierarchy of control measures that should be used by employers to reduce workplace risk “as much as reasonably practical”.

The control measures include elimination of risk, for example by encouraging homeworking; substitution, to alter work activities to reduce exposure; using equipment to control exposure; making sure administrative controls are in place, such as staggered start times or remote meetings; and use of personal protective equipment to reduce residual risk not eliminated by the other measures.

The risk assessment tool is designed to assess an individual’s vulnerability to Covid-19, based on their health history and other factors such as sex and ethnicity. The guidance recommends that staff members should complete the individual risk assessment before discussion with their employer to reach agreement on how they can work safely.

The Scottish government said the most important part of the process was the conversation between the manager and member of staff, and this should be “supportive and constructive dialogue”. It noted that for many staff, no change to their working environment would be required, but employers should not expect staff to return to work if it was not as safe as was reasonably practicable.

Employment law expert Sue Gilchrist of Pinsent Masons said the need for a dialogue between managers and their teams would require extra support from human resources departments.  

“Although this is part of a manager’s role, it is new, so many managers will benefit from support from HR, particularly those who haven’t previously been involved in discussions about reasonable adjustments for example. Considerable care will also have to be taken around data protection as this is somewhat outside the norm in terms of employee data held and it does contain special category data,” Gilchrist said.

The guidance includes links to additional resources to help employers and staff in the return to work process.