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Employers have big role to play when it comes to tackling NHS backlog

The impact of the continuing Covid pandemic means that health and wellbeing support in 2022 will be hugely influenced by factors outside of the work environment. Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health & Protection makes his predictions for the coming year and explains how employers will play a crucial role…

The impact of missed cancer diagnoses will be seen
With an estimated 50,000 ‘missed’ cancer diagnoses1, health services, businesses and employees will be impacted as previously undetected cases come to the fore. It will be essential for employers to support people with increased screening, treatment and rehabilitation.

State provision will be limited
NHS waiting lists will continue to grow while hospitals battle the backlog of operations and procedures that were cancelled during the pandemic. By the end of the year, NHS waiting lists are likely to exceed 8 million2.

Prevention will prevail 
There will be a rise in employees and their employers looking for support for preventative health and wellbeing solutions. A more holistic approach will be taken. More companies will offer apps to improve education around nutrition and fitness. Help will be made available with smoking cessation and alcohol management, as well as screening services being offered for early diagnosis and treatment.

Enhanced communication will be required 
Communication of benefits will need to ramp up. Employers will need to clearly and effectively communicate the advantages of lifestyle changes and the benefits of regular health screenings. They will have to find new ways to communicate messages to engage with the hybrid workforce of today and tomorrow.

The rise of digital will continue
Health and wellbeing support will be accessed more online. As has been seen with virtual GP services and the emergence of benefits portals and health apps, more companies will adopt this method for more of their benefits.

Health and wellbeing support will be crucial to recruitment
Employee expectations of what an employer should provide have changed as a result of the pandemic, and comprehensive, engaging health and wellbeing programmes will become increasingly important in attracting and retaining talent.

Greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion 
Employee benefits will need to support a culture of diversity and inclusion. Companies will need help in selecting the right benefits programmes to ensure they are inclusive and to help with recruiting and retaining a wide demographic of employees.

Employees will need to increasingly turn to their employers for health and wellbeing support in 2022, due to the limitations of state provision while the country recovers from the impact of Covid. The good news is that comprehensive support is available and that relatively simple options, like cancer screening, are extremely cost effective and can have a hugely positive impact.

Majority of UK & Irish workers want to stay away from the office

67% of UK and Irish office workers are reluctant to return to the office post-Covid. That’s according to a new European study by global workplace creation experts Unispace.

The study – which combined the results of an in-depth survey of 3,000 office workers, 2,750 employers in leadership roles at organisations with 50+ employees, and interviews with global senior leaders in Real Estate, HR and Operations – also revealed that business leaders themselves are concerned about returning to work, with 71% reluctant about going back into the office.

When asked why employees are reluctant to return, the commute was cited as the greatest concern. 41% of respondents welcomed the extra time available when not having to travel to work; 31% stated they did not want to spend extra money returning to the workplace. This concern is reflected in the number of employees looking for employers to pay for their travel costs, with 75% of workers indicating this would encourage them back to the workplace. The data also revealed that having free lunches provided would entice 73% of employees back to the office.

While 41% felt they were more productive in the workplace than at home, almost all – 93% – of UK and Irish office workers would make changes to their current workplace – one of the highest of all countries surveyed. The most popular amends included creating more private spaces (cited by 25% of employees), improving the lay-out (23%) and adding more amenities (22%).

According to the study, the steps being taken by UK and Irish employers to entice employees back into the workplace are not aligned with what employees themselves actually want. Business respondents reported introducing a number of new measures including heightened safety protocols (cited by 40% of respondents), having flexible start times (36%) and separate spaces for collaboration and quiet working (32%), which do not align with the preferences indicated by the office workers themselves.

Lawrence Mohiuddine, CEO EMEA at Unispace, commented: “The UK and Ireland were two of the few countries polled across Europe where employers were more reluctant to return than their employees. While we can certainly see a clear trend in concerns around the commute for workers in these two locations, the mismatch between the incentives that businesses are implementing and what employees really want to feel encouraged back to the workplace does suggest some employers only understand their workforce at a surface-level.

“With so many employees indicating a desire for workplace improvements, there is clearly a need to re-think workspaces across the UK and Ireland to encourage employees back.”

Mental and Social Health Recognition and Support and the impact on Health and Safety

By Hero Wellbeing

The past 18 months have been a testing time for everyone and with a significant reduction in social interaction, more employers are recognising their responsibility to protect the mental health of their employees and provide a positive work environment and much of the practical implication lie within our colleague in the health and safety world. 

Mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35 billion last year, according to research published by the Centre for Mental Health. The heightened stress that the pandemic has created has further emphasised the importance of addressing mental health concerns.

Remote working has also created a unique set of mental and social health challenges related to work-life balance and the loss of workplace belonging and social interaction. As restrictions are lifted and things return to a semblance of normality in the UK, mental health will continue to be a crucial topic for businesses to address. 

As well as the impact seen because of COVID, key challenges such as an ageing workforce and technology dependence remain within an organisation, giving even greater importance for companies to develop and implement an effective support plan and wellbeing strategy for its staff.

Mental health has long been a taboo subject, but with an increase in discourse over the course of the pandemic, it needs to become an everyday function of an organisation’s health and safety culture. Here’s some ways to do that: 

  • Provide mental health training to supervisors and managers
  • Provide employee assistance programs, community resources, and online tools – ​​ensuring they are scalable and customisable at an organisation level while still ensuring it can be tailored and personalised to the individual for maximum personal benefit
  • Keep leadership and their H&S colleagues informed of mental health concerns that could affect employees
  • Ensure workplace harassment policies and programs are in place and share information about policies and programs with employees. 

To ensure your health and wellbeing policies are fit for purpose for 2022 take our audit here and for more information about how hero can help and support you with areas of health and wellbeing; both reactive and preventative, on going strategy or training and upskilling workshops, please get in touch and book a meeting. 

Businesses urged to act now and tackle indoor air quality

Rentokil Initial is calling on employers to re-assess the effectiveness of their building’s air quality systems, as society emerges from the Coronavirus pandemic and workers return to their offices and returning to frequenting surrounding businesses again.

Recent Rentokil Initial research has shown that workers are concerned about returning to the office without assurances on indoor air quality.

A majority (68%) of Brits believe that businesses and employers need to do more to ensure clean air circulates in their premises, while 62% went so far to say that air purification systems should be mandatory in public buildings and education facilities. 

The World Health Organisation says that poor indoor air quality is responsible for 3.8 million premature deaths globally, with cross contamination of airborne viruses and diseases 19 times more likely indoors than out. The organisation also advises that Coronavirus, like many other viruses, can be transmitted via aerosols in the air.

Jamie Woodhall, UK Technical Manager & Innovation Manager at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene and Initial Washroom Hygiene said: “The global pandemic has made the delivery of clean, healthy indoor air even more critical for the wellbeing of people indoors.  Businesses should look at the air flow and ventilation within their premises, and consider appropriate air purification options to help ensure they are circulating clean indoor air for their employees and customers to breathe.”

According to the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, businesses are required to maintain working conditions that are safe and without risk to employees, stating that air quality should be at least equal to, but ideally better than, the air outside the building. This has until recently, relied upon adequate ventilation of indoor areas via windows or systems such as ducts and fans or traditional, outdated air purification solutions that may not adequately clean the air.

BSA warns on risks to workers as COVID restrictions near end

The British Safety Council believes that while the withdrawal of some COVID regulations is valid, removing the mask mandate is the wrong decision to take now and risks real danger to workers.

The Prime Minister has announced the removal of almost all COVID controls from 19 July, including rules on social distancing and the cap on the numbers allowed at events. The wearing of face masks on public transport and in shops and hospitals will cease to be mandatory and will become a matter of personal choice.

With COVID cases rising rapidly, the BSA says masks protect others should you be asymptomatic, so wearing a mask indoors and in crowds reduces the risk of further spreading the disease.

While the vaccination programme has been a success, being vaccinated only reduces the likelihood of ending up in hospital, but it does not give full immunity, so the risk of serious illness remains high.

Furthermore, although the link between cases and hospitalisations is weakened, it’s not broken – the expected 100,000 cases a day could lead to 2,000 admissions, twice what the NHS sees in the depths of winter for all respiratory infections. Plus, millions of people are not yet fully vaccinated.

British Safety Council believes that delegating the decision on the wearing of masks to individuals risks chaos and confusion, as organisations and businesses interpret the change differently and impose their own rules. What businesses need most is certainty and consistency on what is the right thing to do.

It says the mixed messaging from Government is failing to provide reassurance to workers in transport, healthcare and retail who remain concerned about their safety. It adds that it has heard from British Safety Council retail members, for example, that they are planning to leave in place check-out screening to protect workers. Not only does this provide a physical barrier, but also psychological reassurance to staff.

British Safety Council is therefore urging the Government to re-think its policy on the wearing of face masks given the risks it presents to worker safety and not leave the decision to personal choice.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “To go from the controls put in place for the last 15 months to nothing overnight is a significant risk and particularly to UK workers. While we would all like to believe that everyone will act responsibly, experience shows us this is not guaranteed. There has been a fantastic level of public compliance with the rules, why go from collective protection to a free-for-all?  The Prime Minster himself has said caution is absolutely vital – if he truly believes this, then he should show leadership on the wearing of masks rather than take a leap of faith into the unknown that risks all the sacrifices and hard-won progress made since March 2020.”

30 per cent of disabled workers treated unfairly during pandemic – TUC

Nearly one in three (30 per cent) disabled workers say that they’ve been treated unfairly at work during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new poll published by the TUC.

The survey – carried out by YouGov for the TUC – reveals that many disabled people report that they experienced significant barriers in the workplace before the pandemic, and that Covid-19 has made things worse for them.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, disabled workers were hugely underrepresented and underpaid in the labour market. The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers was 28 per cent. And disabled workers are paid 20 per cent less than non-disabled peers. 

Covid-19 risks undoing recent improvements in getting disabled people into work, and pushing disabled people back out of the labour market. Recent government figures show that redundancy rates are now 62 per cent higher for disabled workers 

Disabled workers told the TUC that their disability or shielding status meant they were treated unfairly, and worse than other colleagues during the pandemic. For example:

  • One in 13 (eight per cent) said they were subjected to bullying and/or harassment, being ignored or excluded, singled out for criticism or being monitored excessively at work.
  • One in eight (twelve per cent) said they were concerned their disability had affected their chances of a promotion in the future.
  • One in eight (13 per cent) said they were concerned their disability had affected how their performance would be assessed by their manager.

The poll also uncovered:

  • Shielding workers put at risk: More than one in five (21 per cent) shielding workers worked outside of their home most of the time – even though employers could use furlough to protect shielding workers who could not do their jobs from home. 
  • Hostile workplaces: One in eight (12 per cent) disabled workers told the TUC that they have not told their employer about their disability or health condition, with many of these workers fearing being treated unfairly (24%) or even losing their job (21%) if they were open about their disability or health condition. 
  • Employers failing disabled workers: only just over half (55 per cent) of those who asked their employers for reasonable adjustments during the pandemic told the TUC that they had been made in full. Almost a third (30 per cent) said they didn’t get all their reasonable adjustments, and one in six (16 per cent) said they had none implemented. The law says every employer must make reasonable adjustments for disabled members of staff so they can do their job. These may be things like providing the right type of phone for someone who uses a hearing aid, replacing a desk chair with one designed for an employee who has a back condition, or simply allowing home working.
  • Unsafe workplaces: A quarter of disabled workers (25 per cent) said they felt unsafe at work during the pandemic due to the risk of catching/spreading the virus – and this rose to nearly one in three (30 per cent) among those who worked outside their homes throughout. Of those who face additional risk to Covid-19 due to their health condition/ disability, almost half (46 per cent) have not discussed these additional risks with their employer.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Before the pandemic, disabled workers were already up against huge barriers getting into and staying in work. Covid-19 has made it even worse. 

“Employers are failing disabled workers.  Many disabled and shielding workers felt unsafe at work during the pandemic. And too many disabled workers told us their boss is breaking the law by not giving them the adjustments they need.

“We saw with the last financial crisis that disabled people are all too often first in line for redundancy. As we recover from the pandemic, we can’t afford to reverse the vital progress that disabled people have made – in the workplace and in wider society.

“Ministers must act. We need proper enforcement of disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments and safety at work, and a duty on employers to report and close the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled workers.” 

10% of workers being forced back to the office, against government guidance

The TUC has today warned that employers are breaching official guidance by forcing staff to “needlessly” work in offices and other workplaces – and says that this points to wider a health and safety enforcement crisis.

New TUC polling reveals that nearly one in ten (nine per cent) staff have been put under pressure by bosses to return to the workplace – a number that rises to over 1 in 6 (17 per cent) for disabled workers.

This is contrary to current Government guidance – and the union body says it is “the tip of the iceberg” of employers ignoring their health and safety responsibilities.

The findings come amid heavy speculation that the Prime Minister will today delay ending Covid restrictions in England, including the work from home guidance, in a bid to combat the sharp increase in Covid cases.

Breaching Government guidance
The TUC says the Government must send a “clear message” to employers not to breach the current guidance – which states that people should work from home if possible – to reduce community transmission and keep workers safe.

Today’s polling reveals that one in four workers (25%) are working from the office or other workplaces despite being able to work from home.

The union body says employers have a duty to make sure their staff are safe. Until such time Government guidance changes,workers should not be required to work from their office or workplace if they can do their job from home, and companies should make use of the furlough scheme if they cannot enable workers to work from home.

Health and safety concerns
The polling also reveals that many employers have still not taken the necessary action to ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure:

  • Nearly half of workers (46 percent) say their employer has not taken technical measures to improve airflow at their workplaces
  • Three in ten staff (29 per cent) said they were not consulted by their employer on a Covid-secure risk assessment
  • One in six staff surveyed (17 per cent) say they have not been given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • One in ten (11 per cent) say that social distancing still isn’t enabled in their workplace

The TUC says that at present workers have little recourse if their employer forces them to come into the workplace when they could do their job from home.

The union body says that ministers should tell workers who are inappropriately told to come into workplaces to call the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – which should then trigger a spot check from the HSE.

If staff are not reasonably enabled to work from home, the TUC says, this may be evidence that the employer has ignored their responsibilities and is breaking health and safety law.

Employers who unreasonably require workers to come into the workplace when their job can be done from home should be fined.

Enforcement crisis
To date not one company in Britain has been prosecuted and fined for breaching Covid-19 safety rules – despite outbreaks at many workplaces. The TUC is calling on the Government to step up enforcement against companies who take risks with workers’ safety.

The TUC says the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities must clamp down much harder on bosses who put staff at risk – and must have the resources to do so.

The union body is calling for the Government to reverse cuts of the past decade to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which it says left Britain “under-prepared and vulnerable” to the pandemic.

The last ten years has seen real term cuts of 50 per cent to the HSE budget, on top of local authority budgets being slashed.

There has also been a dramatic decline in inspections. There were 27 per cent fewer HSE inspections carried out in the UK in 2019 than 2011, amounting to a fall of over 5,700 a year.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want to beat this virus once and for all. But some employers are still needlessly requiring workers to come into workplaces when they could work from home – and this is the tip of the iceberg of bosses ignoring their health and safety responsibilities.

“Employers should not be able to ignore Government safety guidance with impunity. It puts workers at risk and increases community transmission. The Government must send out a clear message to employers to play by the rules or face serious action.

“When the Government does move to unlock the economy, we need workers to be confident their workplaces are safe and Covid-secure. So, Ministers must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute companies who don’t keep their workers safe.

“If you are being forced to work in your office or other workplace when your job could be done from home – or if you feel unsafe in any type of workplace – please get in touch with your union. And if you’re not in a union, join one today.”

The TUC is calling on the Government to get a grip on Covid workplace safety and:

  • Tell workers to call the HSE if they are being forced into workplaces unnecessarily
  • Require the HSE to follow up all reports of workers being forced into workplaces with a spot check
  • Fine employers who force workers into workplaces unnecessarily
  • Clamp down much harder on rule-breaking bosses, including those who are still not meeting the legal requirement of conducting a risk assessment.
  • Require the HSE to designate Covid-19 a “serious” workplace risk rather than just a “significant” workplace risk, which has led to a foot-dragging approach to enforcement.
  • Make sure there is enforceable Covid-Secure guidance for every type of workplace once restrictions have ended, developed in consultation with unions and employers.

Only one third of firms embracing full office return post-COVID

While many business leaders are drawn to vaccine passports as a solution to bring their workforces back to the office full-time, Forrester predicts that 70% of US and European companies will pivot to a hybrid work model post-pandemic.

In a hybrid model setup, at least some employees can work anywhere they want for two or more days a week while coming into the office on the remaining workdays. Forrester’s research shows that companies that master this opportunity will accrue both employee experience and business benefits, including higher retention rates and long-term recruitment advantages.

According to Forrester, 55% of US employees say they hope to work from home more often, even after the pandemic ends. Additionally, leaders need to consider overall employee sentiment toward vaccination when planning return-to-office strategies. According to data:

  • 47% of US workers and 54% of European workers believe vaccines will not completely stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
  • Only 39% of US workers and 34% of European workers feel that their employers have a plan in place to provide vaccination.
  • Two-thirds of workers in both regions are not comfortable with employers collecting their personal data specific to the pandemic.

While some C-level executives view anywhere-work with skepticism, this model is now imperative for higher-value talent. To successfully implement this model, however, companies must assess specific anywhere-work readiness elements to determine preparedness. They must also consider refreshing their office spaces, including reconceptualizing desk usage to support hybrid work.

Forrester’s anywhere-work readiness calculator will help companies pursue the benefits of anywhere-work and design an action plan based on their readiness. The calculator assesses several company factors, including the percentage of employees who can potentially work remotely and how technologies stack up in terms of collaboration and security. The calculator will help firms invest in and provide technological, cultural, and leadership resources to support work from any location.

“The pandemic has taught us that organizations play a bigger role in employee wellness than previously understood,” said Keith Johnston, VP and group research director at Forrester. “It also reveals how the future of work will be driven by employees having the ability to work anywhere. By shifting conversations to focus on the working environments that best suit employees’ needs moving forward, organizations can ensure that their employees feel they are being heard and that they have the autonomy and tools to do their jobs effectively.”

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.”

HSE steps up COVID spot checks as lockdown eases

As we continue the roadmap out of lock down and more businesses re-open, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it’s working with local authorities to carry out spot checks and inspections on local businesses.

The reopening of the economy means that the opportunity for COVID to spread is increased substantially, so the HSE says it’s critical that businesses shouldn’t become complacent, i.e., they still need to have COVID-secure measures in place.

The HSE is calling and visiting all types of businesses, in all areas, to check the measures they’ve put in place to manage the risk from coronavirus, are in line with the current guidance. This includes businesses that have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, those that have recently reopened and those due to open in the coming weeks.

The body is continuing to work closely with local authorities, assisting them in their targeting of premises in the sectors they regulate such as hospitality and retail.

During spot checks and inspections, the HSE provides guidance and advice where required, but where businesses aren’t managing the risk, action will be taken. This can range from the provision of specific advice, issuing enforcement notices and stopping certain work practices until they are made safe. Where businesses fail to comply, this could lead to prosecution.

The COVID-secure measures businesses should have in place include:

  • Risk assessment: every workplace should have a COVID risk assessment. Update it to reflect any changes in legislation or guidance that may impact your work activity.
  • Social distancing: where possible you should keep people two metres apart. If this is not viable, keeping one metre apart with risk mitigation, such as screens, is acceptable.
  • Cleaning, hygiene and handwashing: keeping your workplace clean reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread. It is a critical part of making and keeping your business COVID-secure.
  • Ventilation and air conditioning: can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.
  • Talk to workers: provide information about providing support and maintaining control measures.
  • Working from home: provide the equipment they need, keep in regular contact and discuss their wellbeing.
  • Vulnerable workers: talk to staff, provide information and consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus – putting controls in place to reduce that risk.

Angela Storey, Director of Transformation and Operational Services at HSE, said: “As we come out of lockdown, we are continuing to work with local authorities to check businesses are COVID-secure and providing guidance and advice where needed.

“Our spot checks and inspections support the cross-government work in helping employers and employees that have worked throughout the pandemic and those returning as lockdown measures ease. All workplaces are in scope for spot checks which means businesses of any size, in any sector can receive an unannounced check from HSE or an inspection from the local authority, to check they are COVID-secure.

“If you are contacted by the HSE or your local authority, please engage with us. By checking businesses have measures in place to manage the risks, we can benefit the health of local communities as well as support the local and national UK economy.”

Further information on spot checks and inspections is available on the HSE website.