Many of us are working from home during the pandemic.

Blog post written by Roslyn Perkins, former Chair, and facilities and safety professional CMIOSH and IWFM.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, trustee boards are looking at health and safety issues with fresh eyes. If you have staff or volunteers, they will be drawing up plans to address these issues. Roslyn Perkins, who is both a former Chair, a trustee and a health and safety professional, looks at some of the elements you might expect to see covered in the plan.

The last three months have seen us all work in an emergency context with the rapid shutdown of the country on March 23. Here we are on the other side of the first wave of this deadly virus and at a key time to review how well we did and what we need to do to remain safe and able to operate, wherever possible, through an unknown period of potential risk. Within the very difficult circumstances many charities face, there are also opportunities to find new and transformative ways of delivering services.

What can you do to strengthen your organisation?

1. A safety-first approach has to be your main objective. To deliver that, it is advised that you retain as much of your work and service delivery to home-based virtual working (Retain). Look at new ways you can potentially deliver more or new services in this mode (Reinvent). Finally, where there is no other way, look at services that you want to restore and do the intensive work to look at whether and how they can be delivered on the ground, through comprehensive risk evaluation (Restore).

2. If you have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) which you have invoked and then operated from, it will no longer be fit for the longer-term purpose – it is time to move to a COVID Secure Strategy – the strategy will need to convert BCP actions into a new action plan which might focus on concepts of Retain, Reinvent and Restore.

3. If you don’t yet have a COVID Secure Strategy Team, consider creating one and ensure you have the right people on it. Make sure you are clear about the respective roles of staff and trustees. Depending on the size of your organisation, your COVID Secure Strategy Team may be made up of board members as well as senior members of the staff team. In larger charities this is less likely to be the case. Whichever approach you take, the board of trustees should sign off on the final strategy.

4. Reconsider your strategic objectives as a charity within the context of COVID 19 – safety first but also the consideration of those you serve and their safety and wellbeing – clearly, there is the need to consider financial viability within this context.

5. A COVID secure strategic plan will need a project team to operationalise the work so it is key to good governance to ensure that you are clear on your objectives and responsibilities – set a time framework for the phases of your strategy and then appoint leads for each area of work. All work will involve health and safety and risk elements as well as good communications and ensuring you have input from staff and user groups.

6. Ensure you are up to date with advice for your charity’s type of activity – for example, by keeping up to date with the latest guidance from a suitable trade association, such as the Charity Retail Association.

7. Ensure you are up to date with Gov.UK advice – On May 11, the first set of procedures were released regarding safe working in different settings including construction, offices and contact centres, other people’s homes, shops and branches, vehicles, factories and warehouses, labs and research centres. Advice is updated on a daily basis, so it is best to delegate someone to follow updates relevant to your service.

8. Useful advice is generally available from other key resources such as the HSE, ILO, CIPD, NCVO and Association of Chairs who often have really practical templates and policies also aimed at smaller charities with fewer resources.

9. If you have not focused on health and safety and wellbeing in your organisation now is the time! Risk assessments for workers or volunteers now have three key strands – the work activity, the person and their individual circumstances and the individual’s journey to work. All must be considered carefully before authorising anyone in your organisation to work outside of their home– unless you are a very small organisation (under five employees) all of this must be documented.

10. Staff continuing to work from home will need the right kit and a DSE assessment should be carried out to ensure they have the right set up – this also includes ensuring good line management practice to look after their wellbeing. This could include regular one-to-ones, staff meetings and social events.

11. Assessing workplace risk. Steps to minimise risk should be considered sequentially, in the following order:
1) Elimination – remove someone from the risk eg closing workplaces and/or allowing staff to work from home.
2) Substitution – not applicable in this situation.
3) Engineering controls – if that is not possible, minimise physical risks, e.g. protective screens, barriers to separate employees from the public and hands-free equipment.
4) Administrative controls – consider administrative controls, e.g. proper hand hygiene, markings to encourage social distancing, disinfection procedures, staggered working hours and ensuring staff stay at home if they have symptoms.
5) Personal protective equipment – if there are still risks in the workplace, make PPE available, e.g. face masks if it is not feasible to maintain social distancing.

For more information on assessing risks, have a look at the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

12. The workplace or service provision area will need to be reviewed as well as the work activity and the location refitted for COVID secure activity. The government would like organisations to put their COVID secure poster up which means you have met the requirements – there is a lot of work to be done – for example, office, shop or gym risk assessments can take weeks of preparation. Distances will have to be agreed and marked out as we have become familiar with in visiting food stores in closedown. Rules for anyone visiting premises must be clearly outlined and communicated, extra resources marshalled to ensure adequate cleaning and hygiene and buildings that have been shut down will need to be serviced prior to re-opening.

13. If you have continued to deliver frontline services during the lockdown, such as extra care services or repairs or other services the risk assessments for this category of workforce should be reviewed in the light of all the emergent information to ensure that the controls are up to date and adequate – what was considered safe in March was no longer so in April, in many areas of front line operation.

The information in this blog is based on broad principles and cannot cover specific situations which may be relevant to your organisation. It aims to help you start discussions in your organisation around measures you should consider but it should not be used in place of government guidance. You should ensure that your organisation follows the latest government guidelines, which are changing rapidly, as the situation develops.

For more information

For more information on chairing through coronavirus, join Association of Chairs’ online peer surgeries to share challenges and solutions with other Chairs.

Visit our coronavirus support page for the latest guidance and resources.

Association of Chairs is a membership organisation and registered charity which exists to support people chairing charities and not-for-profits in the UK. We welcome new members. You can also sign up for our e-newsletter to be kept informed.

For more information on general health and safety have a look at the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance, including risk assessments.