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COVID Recovery ‘could be prolonged’ if staff aren’t supported

Recovery from Long Covid symptoms could be more prolonged if employees are not supported, according to RedArc Nurses, which is encouraging employers to ensure any staff who are suffering get the right support and are not left to cope alone.

As is becoming evident, Long Covid is not a static condition – it can cause a range of changing neurological, psychiatric and physical symptoms of which there are now over 50 reported. Many areas of the body can be affected such as respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological and manifest in symptoms such as breathlessness, muscle or joint pain, headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, anxiety and vertigo. To further complicate matters, individual symptoms can improve and relapse, causing some people to feel that they are suddenly unable to cope. It’s vital that people get the right support as early as possible or symptoms could be more prolonged.

Christine Husbands, Managing Director for RedArc, said: “One of the main issues with Long Covid is that the goalposts keep shifting. Employees can feel quite in control on one day and then a change in the type or severity of symptoms can mean a huge step backwards on another.

“This has huge implications for treatment and support: employees need to be treated as individuals as the symptoms vary so much from person to person – a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t address the very personal nature of the illness, and secondly, the support needs to be agile and adapt to the individual’s condition as it evolves.”

Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked
For some time, the medical profession has acknowledged the significant link between physical and mental health with one directly impacting the other which has led RedArc to have concerns that the mental strain of experiencing a slow and drawn-out recovery from COVID-19 may also take its toll.

Husbands continues:“Over many years of supporting people with physical illnesses, we’ve witnessed individuals struggle mentally when they are not able to live their lives as fully as they once could, particularly when there is no real end date in sight. In addition, in terms of COVID-19 and Long Covid, we’re not only dealing with the mental health impact of the condition itself but also the fact that people have been coping in isolation or with very little social contact which can exacerbate the impact on mental health.”

A new disease
For many, a very frightening aspect of experiencing Long Covid is that it is new and relatively little is known about the condition. There is a significant benefit in having the support of a medical professional with whom to discuss the emotional journey that accompanies it.

Husbands added: “Whether they have severe or milder symptoms, many employees will be battling through without making a fuss believing they are ‘lucky to be alive’. However, if we want to reduce the impact that Long Covid has on individuals’ lives, their workplaces, and the community as a whole, support needs to be offered at the earliest opportunity.

“Support that is too generic however, won’t cut it for Long Covid as everyone is so different, the symptoms are so wide ranging and interlinked, which is why it’s important that support is personalised. For instance, not only do we help people with their specific symptoms but we also help with advice on pacing and rehabilitation, and support in returning to the workplace. By utilising the support available in employer-sponsored health and wellbeing benefits, insurances and via membership organisations, those with Long Covid will get the best possible help in dealing with the after-effects of the virus as well as putting in place early intervention support to recognise and respond to new symptoms as they arise.”

SMEs ‘must react’ to demand and support staff’s health and wellbeing remotely

The pandemic is specifically affecting SMEs in terms of health and wellbeing benefits and what employers can do to react to employees’ changing requirements, writes Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection…

SMEs are missing out   

SMEs often feel more restricted when it comes to employee benefits in general and healthcare benefits in particular. Whether it is due to budgetary restrictions, lack of options, or scarcity of resources, SMEs may find that they are not able to offer valued employees the rewards they would like. There are, however, options available and SMEs have the advantage of being quick to respond and adapt.

Health and wellbeing behaviours have changed 

The pandemic has resulted in long-term changes in health and wellbeing behaviours, with the issue moving up the agenda for SMEs, as they are less able to cover sick leave and absence due to self-isolation. There has been a sea-change in attitudes regarding how healthcare is accessed, with many people now actively preferring to access care remotely.

The impact of the pandemic

During the pandemic, direct access to GPs has become more difficult, with face-to-face consultations discouraged. Now, and throughout the course of 2021, is a critical time when NHS GP practices across the country will be occupied with the roll out of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme. With all of these factors combined, statistics have shown that employees may be reticent to approach their GP, and many illnesses and conditions are going undiagnosed. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support reports that 50,000 people have missed out on a cancer diagnosis due to the strains put on the NHS by Covid-19.

Healthcare access for beyond the insured workforce 

The pandemic saw the rapid roll out of online GP services to private medical insurance (PMI) customers in the spring of 2020, with many employees discovering the great time- and money-saving benefits of a virtual appointment. However, not all employers can afford to provide every employee with PMI, so there is a need for an affordable way for SMEs to extend their healthcare and online GP access beyond their insured workforce.

Alternative options

There has been a wealth of recent developments in making health and wellbeing benefits more relevant and accessible, particularly for smaller companies. An increasing number of options are becoming available and it is important that SMEs are aware of new developments.

Many smaller companies offer cash plans: insurance policies to help cover the cost of everyday healthcare, like visits to the dentist, optician, or physiotherapist. New advancements now make the value of cash plans go even further and SMEs need to be on top of changes such as preferential rates for remote physiotherapy services, which provide enhanced value for employers and better outcomes for employees.

Online wellbeing support 

Many SMEs offer access to support via an employee assistance programme (EAP), which may be linked to PMI, group insurance or on a standalone basis. Remote clinical services are growing in terms of popularity and possibilities. As demand for mental health support has surged during the pandemic, so has the availability of online counselling sessions, which are now frequently conducted via video link, and can help improve the employee experience.

Remote clinical services

Likewise support for physical wellbeing is also now possible on screen. Even treatments as physical as physiotherapy are available to employees online. Remote private GP services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, enabling employees to receive unlimited advice, reassurance and, where appropriate, diagnosis, private prescriptions, and open referrals, from a practising doctor from wherever they are at the time they need help, even if travelling abroad.

One of the benefits of working for an SME is the close working bond that employees can have, and this is reflected in how owners and managers look after their staff, often keen to extend support to family members and dependants. Online GP services help with this, as fast access to primary care can be extended to employees’ families.

Such a service has traditionally only been available to those employees insured on PMI or group risk insurance policies, but standalone options enable companies to extend this to the whole workforce.

British Safety Council repeats call for Government to enforce COVID-19 workplace safety rules

Recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show higher COVID-19 deaths amongst health and social care workers – and the British Safety Council says government needs to more to help bring numbers down.

The body says it is ‘disturbing’ to see that the ‘forgotten’ people who also can’t work from home like machine operators and those working in construction and on production lines, or those employed as drivers and workers in customer-facing roles are also more likely to die.

The British Safety Council says it’s appalled by these figures and is strongly reinforcing its call for a Government health campaign urging employers to improve workplace controls and for enforcement of COVID-19 workplace safety rules, such as ensuring all employers are conducting a risk assessment. People clearly mix in workplaces which increases the potential to catch and transmit the virus.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive at the British Safety Council, said: “These statistics are alarming and highlight the urgent need for greater Government action to reduce the spread of the virus in workplaces. Employers must follow the rules on making the workplace safe; this will have a greater impact on reducing both the spread of the virus and the number of deaths. While infection rates are coming down in the current national lockdown, they still remain high.”

“Everyone should be safe at work and employers owe a duty of care to their workers to take the steps necessary to remove them from harm’s way.

“More can also be done to protect workers, including more Government support for vulnerable workers as well as for lower paid workers so they can to afford to self-isolate.”

Coronavirus deaths by occupation revealed in ONS data

7,961 deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the working age population (those aged 20 to 64 years) of England and Wales were registered between 9 March and 28 December 2020, according to the ONS.

Nearly two-thirds of these deaths were among men (5,128 deaths), with the age-standardised mortality rate of death involving COVID-19 being statistically significantly higher in men, at 31.4 deaths per 100,000 men aged 20 to 64 years compared with 16.8 deaths per 100,000 women (2,833 deaths).

When looking at broad groups of occupations, men who worked in elementary occupations (699 deaths) or caring, leisure and other service occupations (258 deaths) had the highest rates of death involving COVID-19, with 66.3 and 64.1 deaths per 100,000 males, respectively.

In women, process, plant and machine operatives (57 deaths) and caring, leisure and other service occupations (460 deaths) had the highest rates of death involving COVID-19 when looking at broad occupational groups, with 33.7 and 27.3 deaths per 100,000 females, respectively.

Men (79.0 deaths per 100,000 males; 150 deaths) and women (35.9 deaths per 100,000 females; 319 deaths) who worked in social care occupations had statistically significantly higher rates of death involving COVID-19 when compared with rates of death involving COVID-19 in the population among those of the same age and sex.

Almost three in four of the deaths involving COVID-19 in social care occupations (347 out of 469 deaths; 74.0%) were in care workers and home carers, with 109.9 deaths per 100,000 males (107 deaths) and 47.1 deaths per 100,000 females (240 deaths).

Men who worked in healthcare occupations had a statistically higher rate of death involving COVID-19 (44.9 deaths per 100,000 males; 190 deaths) when compared with the rate of COVID-19 among men of the same age in the population; the rate among women who worked in healthcare occupations (17.3 deaths per 100,000 females; 224 deaths) was statistically similar to the rate in the population.

Looking at specific healthcare occupations, nurses had statistically significantly higher rates of death involving COVID-19 when compared with the rate of COVID-19 among those of the same age and sex in the population, with 79.1 deaths per 100,000 males (47 deaths) and 24.5 deaths per 100,000 females (110 deaths); nursing auxiliaries and assistants also had elevated rates of death involving COVID-19.

Rates of death involving COVID-19 in men and women who worked as teaching and educational professionals, such as secondary school teachers, were not statistically significantly raised when compared with the rates seen in the population among those of the same age and sex.

The ONC says, however, that its analysis does not prove conclusively that the observed rates of death involving COVID-19 are necessarily caused by differences in occupational exposure; we adjusted for age, but not other factors such as ethnic group and place of residence.

“Today’s analysis shows that jobs with regular exposure to COVID-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher COVID-19 death rates when compared with the rest of the working age population. Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two thirds of these deaths,” said Ben Humberstone, Head of Health Analysis and Life Events at the ONS.

“As the pandemic has progressed, we have learnt more about the disease and the communities it impacts most. There are a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death; from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions. Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving COVID-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure.”

British Safety Council calls for Government COVID health campaign for employers

The necessity for suitably robust COVID-19 workplace management arrangements has intensified since the highly transmissible new variant was identified last month, with the British Safety Council now urging the government to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the risks in the workplace.

While making a workplace COVID secure as far as is reasonably practicable is the legal responsibility of employers, the BSC says some have struggled to implement appropriate measures to restrict the potential for occupational exposure to the virus.

The evidence that workplaces are a major venue within which people have the potential to mix, and so increase the potential to catch and transmit the virus, has become ever more prominent in the mitigation process against the effects of the pandemic.

However, the BSC says whilst many organisations have embraced this increased responsibility, others have struggled with the changing nature of the situation, together with the government guidelines, and the added expectations this brings.

Therefore, the British Safety Council is calling for a coherent Government health campaign that urges employers to improve workplace protection and engage their workers more effectively to achieve better control in limiting the spread of the virus. For example, it says there is a significant vulnerability within buildings, as the virus can be passed between people breathing out asymptomatically and others breathing in the aerosol.

The Home Secretary this week urged people to ‘play your part’ and follow COVID rules to help reduce transmission of the COVID virus. However, the BSC says Government appears to be focusing primarily on enforcing the lockdown rules in general outdoor spaces like parks and is not doing enough around workplaces and the second variant.

It’s calling for a greater focus on having well prepared and effectively implemented COVID-19 management protocols within the workplace, which is about making work environments as safe as possible for people, is far more likely to reduce the spread of infection than concentrating on individuals who break lockdown rules.

The BSC says effective consultation with staff, good wellbeing and mental health support mechanisms, remote working wherever possible together with premises controls such as one-way movement flow around the building, wearing of face-masks in common areas, suitably positioned desks, protective screens, good information and warning signage, staggered operating hours are all considerations for business within any sector which can make a significant impact on reducing the likelihood of exposure to the risk of virus transmission.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “We are being told by experts that we are in the eye of the storm, and workplaces seem to be at the centre of that eye.  We should be discussing this much more openly rather than taking our lead from the Government’s short termism, and then taking more and better action.  It requires more public health messaging to restrict work to where it is really required, so that more people can remain in relative isolation, and better funding to help employers and employees to do this.

“It may also mean that collectively we should consider much wider shift working, even half day, morning and afternoon, and improving community protection in every workplace, such as requiring the wearing of face masks in indoor workplaces.”

Veolia introduces new COVID-19 test kit treatment services

With new regulations now meaning any organisation that is currently COVID-19 mass testing of employees, students or the public needs to make new waste handling arrangements to meet the legal compliance, Veolia has introduced a fully compliant way of safely managing and treating this potentially contaminated  waste. 

Under the regulations the waste produced from testing kits is now classified as offensive waste (EWC 180104) and non- hazardous chemical waste (EWC 180107) and needs to be stored separately from all other waste, and can only be treated at facilities permitted to take these types of waste.

The new service effectively manages all the necessary operations to ensure compliance, including provision of suitable storage containers, collection, and treatment, and accurate reporting of waste volumes. Backed by Veolia’s hazardous waste team this includes repeat collection, tipping and return/ exchange service, supply of containers for safe on-site storage, and dual coding of waste to allow test kits and PPE to be stored in the same bags. Disposal of materials is carried out using Veolia’s nationwide network of specialised facilities.

This new service works alongside the other specialist COVID-19  services introduced by the company over the last 9 months covering PPE collection and disposal, building and vehicle disinfection, the social distancing ambassador scheme, and HWRC management.

Donald Macphail, Chief Operating Officer – Treatment, Veolia, said: “The challenges caused by the pandemic need innovation to help organisations meet the fast-changing regulations. By adapting our services and controlling waste operations, we can ensure a safe and compliant way of dealing with this new waste stream and the unprecedented amount of test kits. In this way our teams of key workers are providing complete support and reacting to the ever changing conditions imposed by COVID-19, and helping other organisations ensure the safety of their employees and customers.”

HSE to Ensure transport services are COVID-Secure in Xmas run up

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it’s working with local authorities to inspect businesses in the transport and logistics industry to ensure they are managing the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19).

With the current lockdown restrictions, the demand for online shopping is already high and this is expected to increase over the next few weeks. This will also increase demand in the supply chain for the sector.

HSE inspectors and local authority officers will be visiting warehouses and distribution centres across the country to make sure workplaces are COVID-secure and following the relevant guidance.

Being COVID-secure means that businesses need to put in place workplace controls such as social distancing and cleaning arrangements to manage the risk and protect workers and others from coronavirus.

They will be making sure that businesses have suitable toilet and handwashing facilities for all workers, including visiting drivers. They will also check other health and safety matters if required.

HSE provides a range of advice and guidance to support businesses, including:

  • Making your workplace COVID-secure
  • Driver welfare
  • Social distancing – a step-by-step guide
  • Risk assessment
  • Vehicles at work

Information from the visits will be shared to promote good practice and assist the industry in meeting the combined challenges of COVID and the seasonal surge in demand.

Harvey Wild, Head of HSE’s Transport and Public Services Unit, said: “The logistics and distribution industry overall has seen a significant increase in business activity over the past few months and, with shops and retail centres closed, there will be a surge in online shopping in the run up to the festive period.

“As a result of this, we will see an increase in the number of agency and temporary workers in the transport and logistics sector to meet the demand. It’s important that all workers and also customers feel confident that measures are being taken to protect them from Covid-19.

“Employers have a legal duty to protect workers and others from harm and this includes taking reasonable steps to control the risk and protect people from coronavirus. We encourage businesses to consult with their workers on the changes they put in place to become COVID-secure. This is to provide reassurance for workers and to also increase confidence in customers and the local community.

“Becoming COVID-secure not only benefits the health of our communities and vital businesses, it also good for the health of the UK economy.”

Further guidance is also available for EnglandWales and Scotland.

HSE welcomes introduction of Covid-19 research programme

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been asked to lead one of seven studies as part of a national COVID-19 research programme funded by the UK government and fronted by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Britain’s regulator for workplace health and safety has been asked to lead a study addressing the transmission of COVID-19 in the environment, including in workplaces, transport and other public settings.

The study is structured around five themes, each led by a leading scientist in the field: Professor Cath Noakes (Leeds University), Allan Bennett (Public Health England), Prof Wendy Barclay (Imperial College), Prof Martie van Tongeren (University of Manchester) and Dr Yiqun Chen (HSE).

Reacting to the news, HSE’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Andrew Curran said: “HSE is privileged to lead this programme and use our experience in workplace risk management to improve our understanding of how the virus is transmitted. We employ some of the leading scientists in workplace health and safety who are skilled in addressing complex issues such as this. We will also harness the knowledge and expertise of our counterparts in other organisations to coordinate the most effective response to answer these important questions.

“As findings emerge, they will be shared. We hope they will feed directly into effective approaches and guidance that will help improve practices in workplaces. This work will yield information on an ongoing basis, improving our understanding of what a COVID-Secure workplace looks like. When infection rates will allow sustained re-opening of the economy, working safely will be even more crucial than it is now.”

The National Core Studies are a small group of key research projects and infrastructure programmes designed to answer essential policy and operational questions as the UK enters the first winter period of the coronavirus pandemic.

The seven studies will examine fundamental questions such as: the levels of infection in the general population and in specific settings such as schools and nursing homes, the role of different environments in enhancing spread, and whether antibodies confer protection and for how long.

The programme will be a multi-agency response with each study lead drawing upon the best scientific knowledge and expertise available in the UK from within government and academia to help ensure these and other critical questions are answered quickly and well.

10 COVID-19 recovery tips for business

By Thom Dennis, CEO at Serenity In Leadership

There has been a huge cost to the pandemic but there has also been a lot of necessary learning which needs to be integrated into current organisational cultures to be sustainable, resilient and to last beyond the pandemic. Whilst the pandemic is likely to have increased anxiety and difficulties, it will also create new perspectives as to which work practices are outdated and need to change within organisations.  Many businesses will need help to come back in 2021 and beyond, but in a very different way.  Here are Thom Dennis’ top tips:-

  1. LEADERS NEED TO LEAD.  There has never been a time more important for leaders to lead with compassion, clarity, courage and conviction. Whilst the future for many businesses is uncertain, 2021 will not be a time for going back to as we were.  It will be a year where we have to look at what worked, what didn’t, how we adapted and stayed agile and nimble, and what we need to do going forwards. 
  2. BUILD TRUST – Trust is at the core of any healthy relationship. Building, or in some cases rebuilding, trust starts through recognising each other’s efforts and showing gratitude. Being transparent and communicating clearly through shared knowledge and welcoming honest feedback are key. Experiential learning means listening openly too instead of just being ‘spoken to’. It is not possible to force people to engage, they must do it willingly. This is really not the time for token gestures.
  3. IDENTIFY PRE-EXISTING SYSTEMIC VULNERABILITIES – Look behind the wallpaper and under the carpets at how things worked and didn’t work well for the last few years, and in particular in 2020.  Business leaders need to re-evaluate long term vision, purpose, values, mission statements and goals – not as add-ons but as values to be lived and breathed throughoutthe organisation. Change is here whether we like it or not so we should always choose changing for the better. 
  4. FLEXIBLE PLAN – Leaders need to have a flexible plan that prepares for today whilst also being ready for whatever tomorrow brings in the world and workplace which are in constant flux.  Being rigid will close doors and remove opportunities.
  5. ENSURE REAL EQUALITY. Many of us are feeling increasingly insecure about our jobs at the moment, so showing unconscious bias or favouritism or providing unequal opportunities at work will deplete all aspects of the business including the bottom line. We need to create the space to hold difficult conversations, particularly if individuals are speaking from a place of frustration, anger or personal experience. A successful conversation is characterised by the amount of listening that took place.
  6. PRIORITISE WELLBEING & WORK BOUNDARIES – If we are working from home, we need to have home/work boundaries. Many of us are very efficient at working from home but some find it hard to stop working based on the need to constantly prove ourselves and the absence of a natural break brought about by the travel home. These new issues in the home and office mean employers’ priorities need to change around wellbeing. Find out what your employees need, and bear in mind that different people may well have contrasting needs. Be clear about expectations and the importance of physical and mental health. Far more than before, individuals will successfully tackle the same problem in a variety of different ways – the approach to management needs to reflect this.
  7. MAINTAIN DIVERSITY – Amplifying diverse voices will lead to a more innovative, balanced and creative workplace. Relatability and cultural sensitivity may work well with some audiences, but potentially alienate others.  We recommend workshops that try role play/switching and reverse mentoring, or storytelling through true stories as just a few ideas.  
  8. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION – 50% of what lands when we are speaking/communicating is our body language, 43% is tone, and just 7% is the content of the words.  When it comes to being heard, it shouldn’t be about convincing people to have the same view. It is important to create spaces and cultures where people can have conversations to exchange opinions, views and understand why these may result in different emotional responses. Employees need to truly be heard, if not seen at the moment.
  9. LEARNING AS A TEAM – Unity and commitment by the whole team is needed and will only happen if everyone buys into the company’s values. Find ways to develop the team even if it’s just through virtual teamwork. Meetings, education and connection can all happen online in a safe space – establishing and maintaining psychological safety is probably more important now than ever.
  10. ALIGN THE BUSINESS – Reinvent communication and operational plans, knowing and mitigating your risks to produce the best possible outcome for the business and people who make up the business.  Tap into the thoughts of your employees, colleagues and customers at all levels to develop 20:21 vision.

BESA outlines COVID-19 health & safety guidelines

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has published new guidance to help engineering and construction firms keep their staff safe in the light of new government restrictions.

The Association’s Covid-19 Panel has produced two new guidance documents providing clear and practical information about how to reduce the risk of virus transmission on-site and methods for carrying out risk assessments for workers who have to stay away from home.

The guidance is freely available and downloadable from the BESA website: www.theBESA.com/covid19.

“The new guides are all about prioritising workers and customer/client safety,” said BESA health & safety advisor Becky Crosland. “As we see a rise in the R number across the country, it is clear that the threat of infection from Covid-19 remains very much alive. It is, therefore, vital that businesses have robust procedures to safeguard against the risks employees face on-site and in domestic settings.”

She also reiterated the warning that the two-metre social distancing restriction remains in place on construction sites.

“Some people seem to think the two-metre restriction has been reduced to one metre – it has not. Infection risk is between and two and 10 times higher at one metre,” said Crosland. “If it is impossible to remain two metres apart, you should apply other controls like reducing the duration of time you spend together or avoiding face-to-face contact.”

The BESA Covid-19 panel has produced a comprehensive suite of guidance documents specifically for engineering and building services contractors since the start of the crisis delivering clear, concise information that prioritises worker and customer safety.

“Being able to work safely and reduce the risk of Covid-19 during any work is vital to stop the spread of the virus,” said Crosland. “The health, wellbeing and safety of both workers and customers must be a priority during the pandemic.”

All of the panel’s documents have been thoroughly researched, taking into account current government guidance, and providing a series of steps that any employer can put into practice.

“In uncertain times, it can often feel that your personal contribution is not making a difference,” said BESA Covid-19 panel member Rosie Newcombe from Royston Group.  “However by working with BESA and our partners across our sector, individual health and safety professionals have been able to collaborate and contribute positively by interpreting the latest government guidance to produce effective guidance notes and risk assessments.”

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