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Covid-19 Bolton Office Risk Assessment 29 January 2021
Fieldings Porter Covid-19 Risk Assessment – Bolton Office V7 29.1.21
This Risk Assessment has been prepared following the publication of the government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy published on 11th May 2020 and updated on 12 June 2020, Government guidance published on 31 October 2020 and Law Society Guidance and follows on from the earlier measures that this practice had already put in place prior to the government lockdown on 23rd March 2020.
This document will be reviewed at monthly intervals with the next review due on or before 28 February 2021.
A separate document has been produced for the Manchester Office.
Covid-19 is an infectious virus that can result in a variety of medical conditions ranging from asymptomatic or mild flu like symptoms at one end of the scale to severe respiratory illness resulting in hospitalisation or death at the other extreme.
It is a relatively new virus, of which scientists are gradually learning more each month, but at this stage it is believed that: “When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects, such as desks, tables or telephones. People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. If they are standing within 1 metre of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them.” (World Health Organisation: Getting Your Workplace Ready for Covid 19, March 2020).
Research also suggests infected aerosols (i.e. microscopic droplets), which may remain suspended in the air for a prolonged period, play a significant role in the spread of Covid-19 and the provision of good ventilation and the reduction of time spent in the presence of a potentially infectious person will help reduce the risk of infection.
The current scientific consensus is therefore that Covid-19 may be transmitted through direct personal contact with an infected person, by being in close proximity to an infected person, or through contact with surfaces touched/contaminated by an infected person.
Who is at Risk?
The following groups are at risk from the virus:
a) Partners and staff in the office.
b) Partners and staff working from home.
d) Visitors to the office including, but not limited to, cleaners, maintenance workers, tradespeople, delivery drivers and postal workers.
Eliminating the Risk
Ultimately the risk of transference of the Covid-19 virus can only be eliminated completely by closing the office to staff, clients and visitors, and requiring all contact between these groups, and individuals within these groups, to be remote.
As with most other organisations It is not possible to operate the practice in this manner and it is not therefore possible to completely eliminate all risk.
Reducing the Risk and Preventing Harm
We have identified a number of reasonably practicable control measures that can be put in place to very significantly reduce the risk of transference of the Covid-19 virus. The measures that we have put in place are designed to avoid any physical interaction between partners, staff, clients and visitors, or as a minimum to avoid these people being in close proximity to one another.
These measures will be reviewed at monthly intervals as the presence of the virus in the community changes and as the science around the virus develops, but for the moment the following measures are in place:
We have reduced the number of people present in the office on each working day to the lowest level reasonably practicable for the operation of the business. In order to achieve this, we have mandated that:
These measures have been put in place to significantly reduce the numbers of people in the office at any one time and have so far been extremely effective in this regard. This has meant in practice that whereas on a typical day pre-virus 60 or so people would be working in or visiting the office, the average number is now between 20 and 30 people. In other words, we have maintained a reduction of those present in the office of over 50%.
We judge that the measures above are the most effective control measures that we can put in place as, in simple terms, if fewer people visit the office there is significantly reduced risk of exposure to infection from anyone or any surface within the office.
Some people still however have to attend the office if it is to continue to operate as a legal practice and we have therefore identified the following additional measures to reduce risk to those who may be present in the office on any particular day.
For those people who have to work in the office we have implemented strict social distancing rules in accordance with the guidance issued by Public Health England and have re-arranged aspects of the workplace to facilitate the same.
All staff have been given guidance on how to observe social distancing by remaining at least two metres apart at all times in the office. The office is set out over two floors, has numerous cellular offices and has a courtyard type arrangement all of which helps to facilitate this, allowing for significant distances between most of those working in the office.
We have made the office a non-close contact environment by arranging and distancing workstations in such a way that no workstation is closer than 2 metres to another workstation unless it is separated from it by a Perspex screen.
We have required all staff to wear a face covering at all times they are in the office, unless they are at their workstation.
We have required all staff to open the windows in their room and, where the need for privacy permits, also open their door to allow a through draft.
We have required all staff in the office to follow good hygiene practices and wash their hands using soap and water and hand sanitiser on entering the office and before and after meetings in the office.
We have reduced the potential communal touch point areas by ensuring that where possible all communal doors remain open during the working day, avoiding the need for people to touch the same whilst in the office.
We have asked our contract cleaners to ensure that particular attention is given to communal touching areas when undertaking a daily clean of the premises.
Meetings with clients must be held remotely unless it is absolutely necessary to meet face-to-face. This applies to both in-office meetings and home visit meetings. Any face-to-face meeting must be approved in advance by a partner.
Where it is absolutely necessary for clients to physically attend the office we have identified that the following rooms may be used for client meetings: the Boardroom (a maximum of the host plus 3 guests) and the upstairs meeting room (a maximum of the host and 3 guests).
Meetings in the Boardroom and the upstairs meeting room may only be held with guests from the same household unless it is necessary for guests from different households to attend. In such circumstances a partner must authorise the meeting with guests from different households. During the meeting all participants must wear a face covering and must observe social distancing throughout the meeting.
We have provided free parking facilities for staff to minimise their need to use public car parks or public transport and to make their journeys as short as possible.
Where it is necessary for clients to physically attend the office we have identified that the following rooms may be used for client meetings: interview rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4 (in each a maximum of the host plus 2 guests all wearing a face covering), the Boardroom (a maximum of the host plus 3 guests) and the upstairs meeting room (a maximum of the host and 3 guests).
Meetings in interview rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4 may only be held with guests from the same household all wearing a face covering. Meetings in the Boardroom and the upstairs meeting room may only be held with guests from the same household unless it is necessary for guests from different households to attend. In such circumstances a partner must authorise the meeting and the participants must observe social distancing throughout the meeting.
We have installed an intercom and remote controlled locking system on the front entrance glass inner doors so reception can control who enters the office and can control the number of people in reception.
With effect from 3 August 2020 access to the office for clients has been by appointment only. A maximum of 4 client groups will be permitted to wait in the reception area at any one time observing 2 metre social distancing from people not in their household. A client group is a group comprising the client(s) and whoever will attend the meeting with them.
When clients attend the office they will be asked to sanitise their hands using one of the sanitising dispensers we have installed in the reception area.
We have installed Perspex screens on reception, between workstations that are fewer than 2 metres apart and on the meeting room tables in the Boardroom and upstairs meeting room.
When meetings are to be held the following procedure will be followed:
When an appointment is booked for a client in the Boardroom or upstairs meeting room the client will be told they will be required to wear a face covering/disposable mask at all times they are in the office. They will be asked to bring their own face covering, but told disposable face masks will be available if they do not have their own.
Clients with breathing difficulties, clients who find it difficult to wear a face covering due to impairment or disability and children under 11 years old will not be required to wear a face covering. Where possible meetings with these people will be held in the Boardroom or the upstairs meeting room where face coverings are not required due to the possibility of 2 metre social distancing.
When an appointment is booked it must be entered in the central diaries in the Outlook “All Group Calendars”.
Staff have each been provided with two face coverings, but will be permitted to use their own if they prefer.
When a meeting is held in the Boardroom or upstairs meeting room the host and the clients must all wear a face covering/disposable mask throughout the meeting.
Before the meeting the fee earner will wash/sanitise their hands and will invite the client to do so.
During a meeting in the Boardroom or upstairs meeting room the window will be opened to allow ventilation.
During the meeting the lawyer and client will sit on opposite sides of the on-table screen and will observe social distancing of 2 metres where possible and, where full 2 metre social distancing is not possible, will observe distancing of no less than 1 metre plus.
After the meeting the lawyer will sanitise both sides of the meeting room table and the inside and outside handles of the meeting room door, using the anti-bacterial wipes provided, and will prop the meeting room door open, using the door wedge provided, to allow ventilation of the room between meetings.
Individual visitors, including but not limited to maintenance workers, tradespeople, delivery drivers and postal workers will be allowed access to the office where it is necessary for them to make a delivery or provide services. When such a visit is required the following procedure will be followed:
Reception will not allow them access to the office when doing so would mean more than the maximum number of people permitted in reception at any one time is exceeded. The maximum number is 4 clients, plus people who will attend the appointment with them, and for this purpose an individual visitor counts as a client.
A hand sanitiser dispenser will be located at each external entrance door to the office for use by all visitors.
Since the reception re-opened to the public on 3 August 2020 it has been staffed. The following procedures are followed by now followed by the reception staff:
Reception will be staffed by two receptionists at a time. Both receptionists are positioned at the reception counter alongside one another, but they are separated from each other by a Perspex screen. Each of these permanent receptionists will use a different reception workstation.
At the beginning and end of their shift and at the beginning and end of a break each permanent receptionist will wash/sanitise their hands and at the beginning and end of their shift will clean their reception workstation using the anti-bacterial wipes provided.
When one of the permanent receptionists takes a break, the temporary receptionist who staffs reception during their absence will use the reception workstation not being used by the permanent reception they are standing in for and at the beginning and end of their time on reception will wash/sanitise their hands and will clean the reception workstation they use with the anti-bacterial wipes provided.
We have installed additional fixed hand sanitising dispensers at each entrance and exit door, at additional communal areas such as the photocopier rooms and elsewhere throughout the office.
We have extended the provision of sanitising wipes to more areas across the office.
We have issued touch pens for each member of staff for use with the photocopier machines.
We have issued additional portable hand sanitisers for use by staff who may need either to conduct home visits or attend other premises such as Court buildings or police stations.
We have issued a Protocol for Reception and In-Office Appointments and circulated it to all staff. It gives detailed instruction on the procedures to be followed when arranging and attending in-office appointments and to be followed by reception staff.
We have introduced a Precautionary Self Isolation system which applies when a member of the household or support bubble of a member of staff does not have Covid-19 symptoms and has not tested positive for Covid-19, but has them self been advised to self isolate because they have been in contact with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive. In this situation fee earners will be asked to work from home for 7 days and support staff will be asked to work from home if possible, to work from an isolated room in the office if it is not possible to work from home and to isolate at home if neither of the other two options is possible, in each case for 7 days.
Interim Office Arrangements
Each room in the office has been designated as suitable for a maximum number of people. The number of people in that room at any one time must not exceed the designated maximum under any circumstances. A list is attached.
Where more than one member of staff share a room they shall liaise to ensure that the number using the room at any one time does not under any circumstances exceed the designated maximum.
Meetings with clients and colleagues will be held remotely unless it is absolutely necessary to meet face-to-face.
Where paperwork or other documents need to be given to a partner or member of staff, for signature or otherwise, they should be emailed or left in a pigeonhole or collection basket where reasonably practicable.
Partners and staff meeting clients or other professionals outside the office will observe 2 metre social distancing at all times before and during the meeting and will wash their hands, using soap and water or hand sanitiser, before and after the meeting.
Personal hand sanitiser bottles have been provided to anyone who needs to conduct a home visit or attend on any other professional appointment outside the office.
If a member of staff handles packaging or other materials that have arrived from an external source ie from a delivery driver or in the post they should use the hand sanitiser after handling the same.
Partners and staff will work from home unless they cannot work from home, but no partner or member of staff will work permanently from home.
Automated Hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed at each entrance door to the office and in communal areas for use by staff, clients and visitors.
Reviewed on 29.1.2021
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