HRS Family Law Solicitors Ltd Coronavirus risk assessment
On the 23.03.2020 all face to face office client contact was suspended as a safety precaution to reduce the potential transmission of COVID – 19. During this time there remained a duty to clients. This has been serviced by remote means, telephone interviews and effective supervision at all levels.
Government guidance is available on the web and is factored in to this assessment. We have also canvassed the views of all staff and listened to you. We have and will continue to be guided by the five principles set out at the very beginning of the crisis; to prioritise health but effectively protect the firm and our jobs.
The Company is mindful of its legal responsibilities and the Health and safety of all stakeholders
The current position
As the controls that the Government imposed have been reduced since the 1st June 2020 we have taken steps to review the current position in respect of access to the offices. It must be recognised that there are still restrictions in place from the government regarding social distancing and steps to safely re-open, however, it is also true that as the rest of the economy returns to some sense of normality so must we do so in order to protect the firm and retain market share. The firm has always operated on the basis of easy access for clients to advice, at short notice by walk in or other means. This model fits with client profile and our position in the legal services market. To endanger that access is to irreparably damage the firm.
It would make little sense for people to be able to go to the shops, the pub and to other work environments but not to visit HRS. Equally, staff must recognise that although the safety issue remains the reality is very different from March/ April.
We have considered amongst other things;
- The cost to the business of not opening up
- The potential loss of jobs
- Risk to clients and staff of re-opening
- The unique attributes of our offices
- Government guidance reducing the social distance rules
- The actual behaviour of people as evidenced by experience and anecdote
- Measures available to ameliorate risk
- The minimum acceptable change required as against limitation of health risk
- The general official Government Covid 19 data and guidance
- The views of staff generally and in specific cases
In particular, we note the importance of “walk in” clients to the business vis a vis other firms. The fact that many other firms are effectively fully open. The overwhelmingly positive response from the staff. We note that the level of the virus in the community is about 1/100 of what it was at the peak.
We note that staff with particular health or childcare issues have where possible been accommodated with different working hours and other changes to terms and conditions.
To re-instate face to face interviews is complex. This means that the way in which face to face client time is conducted and the frequency we are able to provide will not at this point be the same as normal. There will need to be a phased approach and it is likely that for some time client contact will be a mixture of face to face and virtual.
At the date of this policy release HRS has taken steps to re-open increasing staff office time for maximum coverage versus minimal social interaction. After a trial opening of the firm with client access to reception from the 1st of June it is anticipated that face to face client time will be able to resume from the 4th of July. It goes without saying that should there be increases in infection rates and further increased Government restrictions this will impact on our plans.
What this means?
The agreed priorities for face to face family time are:
- First appointments
- Clients subject to care proceedings
- Those clients with limited means to access advice remotely
Risk Assessment conclusion
- Care and public law case clients may be seen on a walk in basis
- Other clients for a first free face to face interview will need an appointment
- All returning or follow up interviews will for the time being remain remotely operated
- The number of clients in any office is limited to one at a time
- Fee earners will be required to attend their office 3 times per week only
- All visitors must wear a mask and sanitise their hands on arrival
- All staff must wash their hands after each interview and as now on each arrival at the office.
- Staff are encouraged to wear a mask and must do so if sharing a room and during interviews.
- Sharing of a room must be with a minimum of 2 metres distance and is limited to two people
- Clients cannot bring family or friends to the interview and they must stay in reception
- Where possible doors and windows should be open for added ventilation
- Normal Court cover arrangements are now in place
- All staff and visitors must maintain 1 metre distance at all times
- Interview rooms should be used where available
- If an interview room is not available then clients should be seen, where possible, in a communal area where space and ventilation is maximised
- Alternatively staff rooms may be used but the room should be moved round to allow > 1metre social distancing.
- Staggered start and finish to the day being 09.00 for receptionists, 09.15 for non-qualified staff and 9.30 for Solicitors with corresponding departure times of 05.30, 05.45 and 06.00 pm.
As always we are grateful to our staff and clients for their co-operation throughout this difficult time.
Managing Director 29.06.20.