Time to review risk
With a surge in coronavirus cases, new tiered restrictions and grim predictions for the season ahead, how can you ensure you are maintaining a safe pharmacy environment? And how should you go about managing refusals to work?
A workplace risk assessment should never be viewed as a one-off activity. It’s vital that it is reviewed regularly and whenever there is a significant change to your business practices or personnel, new or updated government guidance, or if there is reason to believe your controls are no longer effective.
With the coronavirus situation changing, not to mention the number of months that have passed since the March lockdown, now is the time to review your risk assessment if you haven’t yet done so. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it remain fit for purpose?
- Have staff returned or joined?
- Has the premises layout changed?
- Are we providing new services?
- Do we have the correct signage and latest protocols in place?
There are several resources available to support your decision-making and documentation. For example, sector-specific risk assessment templates and up-to-date guidance can be found on Ellis Whittam’s coronavirus advice hub at www.elliswhittam.com/covid-19/
Conducting regular reviews of your risk assessment and communicating the measures you’re taking as a result is the first step to maintaining trust with your employees and customers. However, some staff are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than others and will have justifiable reason to be concerned about their safety and measures in place to protect them.
Individual vulnerable person risk assessments for staff will help you to determine whether they should continue to work, or if they can work from home or take unpaid leave. You can ensure vulnerable persons are included in your current Covid-19 risk assessment by:
- Talking to staff about their work activities to make sure all aspects of their role have been considered
- Ensuring you have done everything reasonably practicable in following the latest government guidelines – i.e. when deciding on appropriate measures, you must balance the level of risk against the time, money and trouble it costs to control it
- Making sure staff have read and signed the risk assessment, and reassuring them that it will be reviewed and/or amended if or when the guidelines change.
Whilst they haven’t been expressly declared as part of the clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable categories, you should also consider the additional risks to black, Asian and minority ethnic employees, since they appear to be at greater risk from Covid-19. Consider what additional safeguarding precautions could be taken, such as avoiding patient-facing roles or providing additional PPE.
Confidence is key
You may find that as your local risk level rises, you have employees unwilling to come to work. In this scenario, if the employee is not clinically or extremely vulnerable and does not live with anyone who is, refusing to attend work may be a potential disciplinary matter, depending on the reasons behind that refusal.
However, if a staff member’s refusal relates to health and safety concerns, such as a lack of PPE or the pharmacy failing to meet social distancing requirements, this could constitute a ‘protected disclosure’. Employees have the right not to be subjected to any detriment if ‘in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent’ they have left work, refused to work in certain areas, or refused to attend at all.
Ensuring the wellbeing of staff under the current circumstances is all about giving them enough confidence to come to work and highlights the importance of a thorough risk assessment and communication of the resulting measures. This can also be pivotal in protecting your position if an employee refuses to work or an incident occurs.
If an employee does make a protected disclosure and refuses to work, you should start by trying to address their concerns. Working with the employee to reach a mutually agreeable solution is preferable, as maintaining relations will be vital to the stability of your pharmacy. However, if formal action is still the desired approach, employment law advice should be taken.
Toyah Marshall is principal employment law adviser and solicitor at Ellis Whittam
With research suggesting a possible link between COVID-19 and EPs, make sure you’re confident discussing EPs and their treatment with customers