By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing 
SpaceIQ 

Most business managers are familiar with the concept of risk analysis. If you’ve ever done a SWOT analysis or calculated the ROI or opportunity cost of a business decision, you’ve looked at risk. That said, it’s unlikely many business professionals have ever performed a COVID-19 workplace risk assessment. How often do you need to look at your workplace through the lens of a pandemic? 

Despite the scope of what a workplace risk assessment entails, it’s less daunting than it might seem. Facilities managers can undertake a thorough assessment over the course of a day or two and make changes to reduce risk inside of a week. Many workplaces have undertaken workplace risk assessments to a small degree already as they’ve looked for ways to protect essential employees. 

Grab an iPad, fire up your space planning software, and get ready for a Gemba walk around your facilities. It’s time to identify and mitigate COVID-19 risks, for the health and safety of your employees.  

Create a scale for identifying risk

Before you consider how to reduce risk in the workplace, create a method to measure it. This can be as simple as a one-to-five scale, where one is low risk and five is high risk. Your risk scale not only shows the areas of the workplace with the highest potential for risk and liability, it also dictates the urgency by which you make changes.

OSHA provides a guide to COVID-19 workplace risk assessment, which includes a tiered scale for risk identification (low, medium, high, very high). Use this as a template to create your own workplace risk scale and approach to risk mitigation.  

Consider how coronavirus spreads

With your risk scale in-hand, walk through each area of your facilities to pinpoint at-risk areas. To do this, consider how COVID-19 spreads: through contact and surface exposure. You’ll want to identify areas prone to employee proximity that might require extra sanitization: 

  • Collaborative areas and group workspaces
  • Thoroughfares and common areas
  • Bathrooms, kitchens, and break rooms
  • Common-use assets (elevator, copy machine, etc.)

These areas set the tone for closer inspection. There’s a higher likelihood you’ll need to mitigate transmission risks in a common-use elevator than at an individuals desk, for example.

Identify transmission opportunities

In areas considered high-risk, delve deeper to identify opportunities for risk mitigation. This involves looking at how and why employees use the space, and what alternatives may exist.  

In a collaborative area, for example, the problem might be social distancing (rather, lack thereof). Here, you might rearrange the furniture and post signage to wear PPE and remain distant as a solution. Similarly, if you identify the copy machine as high-risk, you might place tape spots on the ground to enforce distance and provide sanitization wipes for employees to wipe down the keypad.  

Look at every area and assess the risk of each interaction in that area. This is a good way to remind yourself that the workplace itself isn’t a risk; how employees interact with it is what needs to change.  

Evaluate workplace protocols

How do you change the way employees interact with the workplace, without disrupting their ability to work? This is the challenge. Start by looking at your risk assessment of each area of the workplace. Which areas have the highest risk associated with them? Which changes are simplest to make?  

It’s easy to offer sanitary wipes to wipe down the copy machine or mandate only three people to an elevator at a time. It’s difficult to repurpose common areas to dissuade employees from mingling. Tackle the simple changes first as you devise smart solutions for changes that may require more heavy lifting.  

With every change you make, ensure there’s also a protocol adjustment to accompany it. For example, if you provide wipes for the copy machine, send a memo to remind employees to wipe down the keypad after they use it. If only five people are allowed in the break room at one time, provide alternatives for lunch. If you restructure your thoroughfares for one-way traffic, explain it to employees.  

Don’t make changes and expect employees to instantly adapt. True risk mitigation starts and ends with education.

Decrease risk wherever you can

The best way to access and reduce risk in your workplace is one area at a time. Make the little adjustments first and simple changes where you can. Empower leaders to make bigger changes that affect their direct reports. Incorporate facilities, IT, HR, and other important departments to ensure all changes go smoothly. Don’t focus on how fast you can make changes; make them the right way.

Above all, keep employee safety top of mind. Any changes you make need to reduce risk in a meaningful way—especially if it also creates obstacles. When you reevaluate your workplace for risk post-changes, your score should be lower thanks to a workplace that’s inherently safer. 

Keep reading: Updated COVID-19 Workplace Resources