SPONSOR SEGMENT - Obligations, regulations and procedures

Wednesday 15 April 2020

It’s difficult to manage daily operational challenges and still maintain standards and systems, when local and national governments, blue light services and the third sector are focused on crisis delivery of public services.  

You may be concerned about what remains necessary to do when everyone is concentrating on what is urgent and important. Making changes and taking decisions in a dynamic environment is challenging for everyone.

Changing services

When doing something different – for example stopping, limiting or altering a service, or the way a service is delivered.

  • Ask ‘why are we doing this?’ Provide the argument. Justify decisions. It is important you can demonstrate what you have done is reasonable.
  • Provide a high-level risk analysis and assessment.
  • Follow the Plan, Do, Check, Act process.
  • Assess secondary risks (and as far as possible, future consequences) and document how you plan to mitigate them.
  • Document the logical process you have gone through.
  • Ensure all documentation is filed and accessible.

Despite the challenges of the crisis situation, make sure you document everything and provide evidence of your decision-making. Keeping good records now may become vital in the future. In the event of a civil claim you may have to prove that the organisation took such care as reasonably expected in the circumstances.

Workers

When redeploying workers – and that includes volunteers – adhere to Public Health England, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and government rules, regulations and advice.

Highways

Many highway authorities are altering highway inspection and maintenance programmes due to COVID-19 staffing challenges. The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) has emphasised that, subject to local variations, it is business as usual for highways maintenance during lockdown.

Statutory obligation to maintain the highway remains. This includes ensuring the network is reasonably safe for highway users, particularly around critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and supermarkets.

Highway authorities should maintain some form of inspection regime, at least for priority areas. These include critical access routes leading to essential services and buildings and assets that may be experiencing increased traffic or vulnerable pedestrians.

As the risk has changed due to a significant reduction in pedestrian and vehicular traffic in some areas (like residential streets) it is arguably justifiable to temporarily adapt inspection and maintenance frequencies.

However, stopping inspections altogether will increase the risk of serious defects going unnoticed, causing injury or damage, and leaving an authority vulnerable to claims. Document the changes you choose to make and your rationale for making them, particularly in the context of the ADEPT statement.

Debrief

You are busy, everyone is under a lot of strain, and the workforce is scattered, but do take time as a team on a regular basis to get feedback on how the changes are working. Assess any additional risk and insurance considerations. Contact your insurer and/or take legal advice if you have questions. They are still working and can help. Many companies have COVID-19 communications online that will provide answers.

Encourage your project teams to conduct a debrief at the end of this emergency. Make sure risk, insurance and assurance issues are carried forward and learned lessons are recorded and communicated.

Public service organisations are making responsive decisions every day in this crisis. There may be difficult dilemmas between protecting workers and delivering usual services. These decisions not only have a huge societal effect but may impact on the finances and reputation of your organisation in the future. If you can’t evidence these decisions, you can’t push back on any claim or allegations at a later date.

Steve Thomas, Team Leader – Workforce Strategies, Zurich Risk Engineering UK (info@zurichmunicipal.com)

For more information, visit Zurich Municipal's website.

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