Many firms will encourage workers to make the move back to their workplace, whether that be the retail, leisure or manufacturing environment, or the office. Commercial landlords may now be earning rental income once more, having waived or deferred payments during lockdowns and restrictions. But what do we need to be aware of with regard to ‘reoccupied’ space?
Close to the top of the risk assessment list, judging by Government guidelines, is ventilation, and this could inform property design and modifications going forward, to cope with any future pandemics. Firms must ensure there is a supply of fresh air to indoor spaces where people are present, whether supplied through windows, doors and vents, or through mechanical means, such as fans and ducts, or both.
Official guidance now talks about using CO2 monitors, to check on the ventilation provided to the workforce, admitting this is hard to operate in areas such as small meeting rooms, toilets and changing rooms. Businesses must do all they can to improve ventilation or restrict time that workers spend in poorly ventilated areas. This, of course, supplements the guidance on hand-washing, hygiene, face-mask wearing in crowded areas and the advice to work staff in buddy teams, as much as possible. Thorough cleaning regimes are expected, and inspections for signs of vermin ingress and infestation part of due diligence.
Property owners must remember that cleaning needs to include what cannot be seen, particularly with regard to water systems. If locked- down buildings have been out of use or underused, there is a chance Legionella bacterium has grown within the system. These deadly bacteria thrives where stagnant water accumulates, be that within piping or, most importantly for property owners with large commercial buildings or retail centres that may have been closed during lockdown, in air- conditioning systems. Pipework runs, dead ends and improperly drained condensation trays or humidifying or evaporating cooling sections, where water can easily stagnate, are just some parts of water systems needing to be inspected.
An area that could easily be allowed to slip by, as businesses try to boost productivity, is that of compliance with engineering inspections, and also with PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations).
The rules governing engineering inspections were slightly relaxed during the pandemic, due to the realisation they would be harder to carry out and that inspectors would be available in reduced numbers.
The Health and Safety Executive stated it would take a “pragmatic and proportionate” approach to enforcement action, recognising that dates of inspections might have to move. It made the point, however, that inspections should be resumed as soon as possible and equipment decommissioned, if certainties about its safety could not be secured. Any equipment used outside of the test regime – be that six months or 12
months for many pieces of equipment – was only allowable if the equipment was safe and critical.
Any business that did not have its statutory engineering inspections completed, should do so as a matter of urgency, ensuring that all inspection data is logged and retained on file, as evidence that statutory compliance has taken place.
Those companies now choosing to hire, rather than buy equipment, should check whose legal requirement it is to test and demonstrate the safety of the equipment and, if it is the equipment provider’s, ensure they see and verify the dates on all inspection certification. Event organisers should also make sure that any equipment or air-conditioning systems used within a hired event space are both safe and compliant, as many exhibition spaces may have been closed for some time and it is their duty to make such checks.
All employers must remember their duty of care over equipment provided for employee use, from the office toolbox’s saws and drills, to lifting equipment, professional coffee
machines fitted with pressure vessels and a huge variety of other plant, equipment and tools. Notably, the Building Safety Group (BSG) reported that PUWER breaches amongst construction companies have risen by 40% in the first half of 2021.
The materials handling sector should also recognise that GN28 guidance has changed and been significantly enhanced when it comes to what is expected during “Thorough Examinations”. New and stringent expectations apply to testing of counter-balanced trucks, warehouse trucks, rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers.
If risk assessments, legionella testing, inspections and equipment testing, and staying abreast of new duty of care requirements have all been tasks on the back-burner during COVID-19, property owners and businesses need to urgently comply with what the law expects and reinstate a safe regime within the workplace. Building into the duty of care framework actions such as better cleaning, hygiene and ventilation provision is now expected.
Doing all of this should mean there will be no nasty shocks when the inspector calls, and a reduced chance of health and safety accident and incidents which could have more ramifications for your business or property portfolio. You should also be able to demonstrate all that the insurer expects to see, and have the best possible presentation of risk when it comes to your insurance renewal, if you work with the right insurance broker.