A winter risk assessment review

A Winter Risk Assessment Review

A Covid Risk Assessment has become an important part of church ministry and should be reviewed as the pandemic develops.

It's great news that places of worship are able to open again for public worship in England. But as the temperature drops, the winter months develop, and the infection rate of Covid-19 continues to fluctuate, churches will find that they need to review their Covid Risk Assessments.

A ‘living document’

On the face of it, this should come as no surprise: risk assessments are often referred to in professional safety circles as ‘living documents’: not to be viewed as something to put together once to tick a legal compliance box and then leave on the shelf. Rather, they should reflect how risks are currently managed and should be reviewed and revised to reflect real-life changes.

In general, risk assessments should always be reviewed when the risks change, any applicable legislation or strong guidance changes, or when the ways in which risks are controlled changes (for example the new Tier structure). Failure to do this could render the risk assessment invalid.

Even if no changes have been noted, it is highly advisable to review all safety risk assessments periodically anyway (I usually recommend annually) but we should expect to do this more frequently at present as the situation keeps changing.

A winter review

Notwithstanding a general expectation of a review, there are specific factors to consider as we approach this winter. The following list is not exhaustive but covers some of the main issues:

  • Activities which we were conducting outdoors to reduce transmission risk, enable greater capacity, or avoid mandatory wearing of masks, may need to relocate indoors or cease.
  • We may need to rethink queuing arrangements as people arrive at our premises if it is not practical to wait outdoors.
  • We should consider whether being outside in cold and/or wet weather will have any additional health and safety impact, especially for more vulnerable individuals.
  • Ventilation of indoor spaces by opening doors and windows may need to be reassessed, and we may need to advise people that our venues may be cold and to dress accordingly.
  • As Covid-19 cases vary, coupled with any other seasonal spikes in respiratory bugs, we may need to be extra vigilant about people displaying symptoms.
  • We may need to be prepared for changes in the local restrictions, which are hard to predict.

The right attitude

Importantly, as the second wave of Covid-19 continues, we need to approach risk assessment with an appropriate, professional and, most importantly, godly attitude.

This requires that we understand the purpose behind what we are doing and, with a risk assessment for a church, this means ensuring that the church can continue in its mission to proclaim the gospel without undue risk to the health of our brothers and sisters, and to the wider community.

We also need to recognise the extent of our legal duties (I have written about this separately): we have specific ‘hard’ requirements (e.g. wearing masks and capping wedding attendance) and other non-mandatory guidance which is interpreted in the context of a legal duty to ensure safety so far as is reasonably practicable.

Thus the non-mandatory guidance cannot be ignored lightly, and any kind of ‘gamesmanship’ with the hard rules, where we try to get away with as much as we think we technically can, would undoubtedly run contrary to this more general legal duty.

Realistically, risk cannot be fully eliminated, and we should not expect to do so. But we need to take seriously our legal and moral duties and treat risk assessment as more than a paper exercise to meet the legal requirements for being able to meet in person again.

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