As restrictions are starting to lift and many of us are preparing for that long-awaited return to the office or workplace, employers should be aware that there are some extra safety measures that may need to be taken. As well as ensuring COVID-secure measures such as increased hand hygiene are maintained, employers should make sure that their workplace has an up-to-date COVID-19 Risk Assessment. Furthermore, the risk from Legionella bacteria developing in water systems and air conditioning units will need to be addressed, and in this article, we explain how to identify and manage this risk.
COVID-19 Workplace Risk Assessment
A COVID-19 Workplace Risk Assessment is an assessment of your workplace to specifically identify the risk of transmission of COVID-19 as a result of your organisational operation and is compiled in accordance with the issued Government guidance.
A COVID-19 Risk Assessment is something that you, as employer, can carry out following guidance issued by the government. However, it is important to note that the Risk Assessment should be updated regularly to reflect any changes in legislation or guidance that may impact how you carry out your work activity, e.g., a change in local or national restrictions. In addition to this, if you have five or more employees, you have a legal duty to ensure that the Risk Assessment is recorded.
Risk of Legionella
If your building or workplace was closed or operating at a reduced capacity during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, then there is an increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease. This is because whilst offices and workplaces may have been left abandoned, water systems were likely left to stagnate therefore creating a risk of Legionella bacteria developing.
It is important to note that you should have a Legionella Risk Assessment carried out if you start using a water system again. You should also begin to manage, prevent and control the risks.
The Health & Safety Executive’s ACOP L8 requires that the Duty Holder should appoint a ‘Responsible Person’ to take day-to-day responsibility for controlling Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease. This will involve implementing the recommendations from the Risk Assessment, selecting contractors to maintain the system and arranging for routine monitoring as required.
Furthermore, if hot and cold water outlets are used infrequently, it is recommended to flush them weekly to prevent water stagnation. If you cannot do this, you can work with a competent person or organisation to ensure that systems are cleaned and disinfected before the building is occupied, if required.
Finally, if your workplace has been closed for an extended period and has air conditioning units that have a source of water that can generate aerosol, you will need to assess the risks of Legionella before restarting them. Small units with closed cooling systems should not present a risk, however, larger units may.
If you would like further information about COVID-19 Workplace Risk Assessments or Legionella Risk Assessments, please get in touch.