COVID-19 - balancing workplace risk against the benefit

Vicki Filson

Vicki Filby-Filson
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
6th July 2020

From time to time I see this in in health and safety controls, but never to the extent I am finding whilst organisations attempt to make their workplaces 'COVID-Secure'.

The control measures are very visible and it seems everyone has an opinion or has a new costly solution. This means your stakeholders may expect to see controls, regardless of whether the risk reduction is either significant or proportionate to your workplace.

As many of us know, the best way of reducing risk is to remove the hazard altogether. Obviously for organisations to operate successfully, this isn’t always possible. Look for example at restaurants - remove the customers and surely the problem is solved?

Whilst a proportionate control for the period of lockdown, while the risk for restaurants to stay open was too high, the community risk of COVID-19 has now lowered, and the need to avoid financial failure of an industry, it is no longer sustainable. Therefore, what we are doing is balancing risk against benefit, generally in the workplace, this is for business function and therefore financial benefit.

In simple terms, the cost and effort involved in reducing risk must be proportionate to the risk reduction benefit. Whatever your political views, this will be how the government are relaxing lockdown measures.

Risk assessment isn’t new, however most business have never before had to apply the hierarchy of control measures in relation to an invisible virus. Having to apply unfamiliar controls to a hazard that is still not fully understood, new offerings of solutions and lack of long term established best practice creates fear around if you are doing it right or going far enough. Ultimately this could result in unnecessary expenditure at a time you least need it.

We have all been on a steep learning curve as new control measures become established. However, whilst assessing risk, it is important to step back and remind ourselves of the key messages and where the recommended controls fall within our understanding of effective control. Additionally, what the government guidance is for your industry and the key messages – work at home if you can, wash your hands, stay apart from each other.

Thinking outside the box and finding solutions should not always be costly and require buying new things. Changing processes, can have just as much, if not more impact on risk reduction.