COVID-19 is changing the way businesses operate and in some cases, has resulted in the performance of new or novel tasks. We recently had a claim where, due to the closure of premises, a maintenance crew was required to perform a task that had never been performed before.
Workplace safety required dozens of showers to be run in unused premises, to flush stagnant water and prevent the buildup of bacteria.
Whilst workers had been instructed with risk assessments in various established tasks and trained in general “take 5” risk assessments, because this task was new, no risk assessment had been undertaken.
The task involved depressing a pressure-activated tap which commenced the water flow. The tap was spring-activated and when the tap returned to its normal position, the water flow ceased.
The worker could not stand in front of the shower because when he activated the tap, he would have become wet, so he stood to the side of the shower, depressing the tap with an outstretched arm.
The repetitive pressure over several hours with the worker’s arm in an unergonomic position resulted in a shoulder injury.
The risk of injury may not have been obvious on a casual consideration of the task being performed once, and only became apparent when the task was performed repeatedly.
Nevertheless, walking through the task prior to its performance would have identified the risk and allowed remedial action to be taken which was as simple as using a long-armed tool to depress the tap from a distance and allow the worker to stand clear of the shower spray.
If you find yourself in uncharted territory performing a new task that has not been risk assessed, always consider the possible consequences of each step of the task including repetition of the task to ensure safety in the workplace.