With the high street open again, and the Chancellor’s temporary stamp duty holiday helping to stimulate the market, estate and letting agents should have already introduced several measures to manage the risk of COVID-19.
However, risk is not black and white. Now that meetings and viewings are back on track, it’s the perfect time to check you have done, and continue to do, everything you can to build confidence with your staff and customers.
As we enter a challenging Autumn period, prioritising safety makes smart business sense.
Striking the right balance with risk control
Remember, the law doesn’t require you to eliminate the risk of Covid-19 completely; that’s impossible.
However, like any workplace hazard, it does require you to carry out a risk assessment and introduce suitable and sufficient control measures.
As a business and as an employer, you are required to reduce the risk of contracting the virus to as low a level as is ‘reasonably practicable’.
Put more simply, when deciding on appropriate measures, you must balance the level of risk against the time, money and trouble it costs to control it.
This doesn’t mean you are excused from doing anything; if the risk can be reduced using easier and more proportionate steps, then they would be reasonably practicable.
A risk assessment will help you to decide on and document these measures.
Regularly updating your risk assessment
Despite agents nationwide getting back to business, the fact is that Covid-19 remains a real risk – the situation remains fluid and therefore a robust risk assessment is not a one-off activity.
Here are five steps to follow to ensure your risk assessment stays relevant, keeping you, your employees and your customers safe, and ensuring you bolster your business reputation:
Step 1: Review all the areas and activities in the workplace where there may be a risk of transmission, and who may be harmed and how.
For example, have you introduced or re-introduced new working practices or re-opened areas of an office? Have you brought, or will you bring, staff back from furlough, with consequences for maintaining social distancing in the workplace?
What are your procedures for safe viewings and are you effectively communicating this to staff and clients to ensure these are always COVID-secure?
Step 2: Assess the risks and take action. For every hazardous situation and activity identified, consider the likelihood that transmission may occur and the severity of the harm.
Consult the government’s guidance on home moving and working safely in other people’s homes during Covid-19, as well as HSE resources.
Step 3: Record the significant findings. To help with this, a risk assessment template is available to download for free on Ellis Whittam’s Coronavirus Advice Hub.
You must then implement practical controls to protect anyone who may be affected by your activities. Potential control measures range from eliminating certain activities (for example, can agents predominantly work from home, and could virtual viewings be introduced?), through to administrative controls such as meetings by appointment only, office signage and revised layout for social distancing, and clear instructions on etiquette for buyers and sellers when it comes to viewings and valuations.
Step 4: Communicate the developments to your employees through regular training refreshers and staff meetings, and to your customers through signage, email, telephone conversations and on your website.
Use this as an opportunity to enhance your brand within your community and gain continuous feedback from your team. Display the ‘Staying Covid-19 Secure’ poster in your workplace to show your commitment!
Step 5: Schedule a regular review of the risk assessment (i.e. monthly) and also review 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.
Remember, risk assessment should be a collaborative effort. Not only is it a legal requirement to consult with employees on health and safety matters but involving them will help to instil confidence and protect against employee whistleblowing complaints.
*Nick Wilson is director of health & safety service at Ellis Whittam, which support estate agents around the country with employment law, HR and health & safety.