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COVID-19

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.

Life is changing, everybody is talking about the new norms

By SCOLVO

What are the new norms? Globally we have experienced something that we have not seen before. Humanity has had to battle in wars, had to survive earthquakes and floods, but only the two World Wars affected the whole civilization like the current pandemic.

A new task to all of us is to adjust our lives to the changed environment, to the new rules and regulations which put a pressure on us the same way as if we are employees of a company or if we are the employers.

People have to tackle new responsibilities, in order to slow down the virus exposure and save the people in their micro and macro environment.

To help this, the @WHO has issued new guidelines which are supposed to support our daily life, our wellbeing, our mental health.

How can people of a company easily adopt the new regulations regardless of their position?

What kind of tools are available to integrate into the organisation’s routine?

SCOLVO has worked on a solution from the very beginning and created CORINFO which they offer now FREE .

Why SCOLVO?

As all SCOLVO mobile applications, CORINFO is based on a unique development framework that enables to personalise quickly the mobile (iOS, Android) application using the pre-built elements.

Therefore the implementation time can be much faster than for any similar application.

What can CORINFO provide?

  • Secure database (GDPR compliant)
  • Flexible and easily amendable customer content
  • Predefined and tailor made reports and dashboards
  • Accurate forecast based on predictive data analysis and built in formulas

Available customer content packages:

  • Return to office – collects information from employees to show their readiness to return to work 
  • Virus exposure – accurate picture of risks, assuring employees of infection-free office
  • Office occupancy – supports planning the workplace capacity (parking, canteen, office, meeting rooms)
  • Employees wellbeing – honest and open information about quality and safety of the physical work environment, to show how employees feel about it

www.scolvo.com/corinfo

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.

Study calls for ‘big brother’ COVID tracing tech to be regulated

Technologies, such as track and trace apps, used to halt the spread of covid-19 have to be thoroughly examined and regulated before they are rolled out for wider adoption, to ensure they do not normalise a big-brother-like society post-covid-19.

That’s according to research conducted by Jeremy Aroles, Assistant Professor in Organisation Studies at Durham University Business School, alongside Aurélie Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, Professor of Management of Information Systems at IÉSEG School of Management, which draws from the concept of ‘societies of control’, developed by the French philosopher Giles Deleuze, in order to analyse the technologies currently being used to tackle the covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst the study acknowledges the public health benefits of these technologies, the researchers state we must be wary of what technology is rolled out by governments and critically cross-examine these.

Dr. Aroles said: “Presented as ways to curb the immediate progression of the pandemic and improve safety, the acceptance and use of these technologies has become the new “normal” for many of us, therefore it is important that these systems of control are heavily vetted and cross-examined before being rolled out to the wider public.”

The researchers suggest three solutions regarding the development and use of covid-19-related technologies.

First, the public should question the locus of collective responsibility. Increasingly complex systems of control and surveillance have been fuelled by our reliance on technology which, the researchers say, has blurred our understanding of the boundary between “good and bad” or “right and wrong”.

Second, more must be done to raise people’s awareness of how digital technologies work, and the risks of adopting them across society. People are often, rightly, concerned over their privacy and the sharing of their data. It is therefore crucial that these technologies are transparent and actively help individuals fully understand the ramifications of the control systems they’re opting in to.

Third, given that covid-19 tracking technologies are developed by companies for the benefit of governments, it is vital that greater regulation of the partnerships between state authorities and companies is adopted. Alongside this, it is also important that counter-powers such as journalists and the public hold these partnerships to account, to ensure they do not violate the privacy of citizens for financial gain.

The researchers state that it is important the covid-19 pandemic is not utilised as an opportunity to enforce a society of control and to normalise greater surveillance. They suggest that researchers or bodies specialising in the management of information systems should be brought in to supervise the developments of digitally enabled control systems, such as covid-19 apps, and not to abandon them to companies that could violate the privacy of citizens.

HSE outlines COVID-safe learnings in Scottish schools

Using coloured spots to highlight frequency touched points and introducing alternatives to staggered start and stop times were some of the examples of good practice carried out by schools in Scotland to ensure they are COVID-secure.

These are some of the examples of good practice discovered by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors after carrying out a programme of COVID-secure school spot checks in Scotland regarding the implementation of school reopening guidance.

Since August, a total of 500 schools have been contacted to check they are COVID-secure and compliant with the Scottish government’s school reopening guidance.

To give a representative sample of schools across Scotland, 16 local authorities were selected for the focus of the checks, and a proportionate number of primary schools and secondary schools were selected in each area. In addition, a sample of Additional Support Needs (ASN) schools and independent schools were also contacted.

Following the initial calls, HSE found around 80% of schools had a good understanding on being COVID-secure. Where levels of compliance were less certain in 100 schools, HSE undertook follow-up site visits.

Harvey Wild, Head of HSE’s Transport and Public Services Unit, said: “In our view the Scottish government’s school reopening guidance was very good quality, and was viewed positively by schools in what can only be described as very challenging circumstances.

“It appeared to be flexible enough to be implemented appropriately in different settings and adapted to local circumstances ensuring most schools we contacted were COVID-secure.

“The majority of schools in Scotland reacted very quickly to implement new measures. For those schools where compliance was less certain, formal spot inspections were carried out by a team of HSE inspectors.

“This enabled the inspectors to go to the schools and see what COVID-secure measures were in place so they could then offer formal advice and guidance where needed.”

All the HSE spot inspections at schools in Scotland were completed by the beginning of October and, based on the inspections undertaken, HSE found no need for any formal interventions requiring improvement. Any areas of concerns were dealt with by verbal advice.

Our inspectors did find some common areas of concern where schools needed to make changes. This centred around social distancing in staff room areas, cleaning regimes and ventilation in school buildings.

For ventilation, most schools were relying on windows and doors being open for long periods of time and HSE’s feeling was that schools/local authorities may need to conduct a simple risk assessment of fresh air in schools. In light of this the Scottish Government developed further guidance to assist schools – see www.gov.scot.

Wild added: “While highlighting some areas of concern to schools, our inspectors also found some novel and new examples of good practice.

“Regarding social distancing, one primary school had considered replacing the two metre lines to separate teachers from pupils with a painting of a river, to help pupils understand the concept of not crossing it.

“Another school introduced creative alternatives to staggered start and stop times by using multiple exits at the same time. This prevented parents waiting for long periods of time at the school gate.

“These examples show how well most schools have adopted COVID-secure measures, but there can’t be room for complacency. Ensuring a school has measures in place to manage any COVID risks can only benefit the health of the local community they serve.”

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.”

Investing in mental health awareness training pays

Organisations have the opportunity to make positive cultural change and strengthen their future, whilst supporting employees with their mental health, says iHASCO

In the latest published results of the study, ‘Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic’, it has been found 64% of people feel that they are not coping with pandemic-related stress well. The temporary hope as lockdown eased has now been replaced with an understanding that the virus is still playing havoc with people’s lives. With further government restrictions introduced to try to prevent the infection rate from spiraling out of control, the uncertainties for individuals and businesses this winter remain high. With financial worries, health concerns and more, the pandemic is certainly contributing to a lack of resilience and poor mental health across the UK.

A ‘Mental Health Crisis’ 

The HSE figures for 2018/19 show that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases, with 12.8 million working days lost. Now as a result of the pandemic, every business across the country may see a rise in mental health problems in their workforce, with figures even worse than those reported before COVID-19. Therefore, it is vital that employers can create healthy working environments and support employee mental health and wellbeing, not only to meet their legal obligations but to remain productive and to come through the other side of the pandemic in a much better place. It also presents an opportunity to contribute to breaking the negative stigma surrounding mental health, to ensure that as a nation we reach a point where it isn’t brave to open up about your mental health – rather, it’s ‘the norm’. As some organisations lead from the front, it may give others the confidence to follow and realise the positive benefits for all when tackling mental health in the workplace.

Adding to the crisis, it has been suggested in a report by the Centre for Mental Health that in the next two years 500,000 more people will experience mental ill-health conditions in the UK as a result of the pandemic. With a further period of economic downturn as a result of a second spike likely to see even more severe and longer lasting effects on mental health. 

“Now truly is the time for organisations to offer practical mental health and wellbeing support to their employees” explains Lottie Galvin, Mental Health First Aider at iHASCO. “The pandemic has shone a light on how crucial it is to acknowledge and address the emotional and mental struggles people are going through, many of whom were struggling long before COVID turned up on our doorstep.”

A recent report from Deloitte showed that employers can gain a 6:1 return on investment when supporting staff with mental health and wellbeing through organisation-wide culture/awareness raising. This could include initiatives such as tailored web portals, awareness training or personal exercise sessions. With poor mental health having the ability to hit a company’s bottom line hard, it seems like an obvious choice to address company culture if fostering a more caring, supportive attitude to mental health creates a more productive workforce. 

Implementing change

“One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of offering mental health support is to provide your staff with Mental Health & Wellbeing eLearning” says Galvin, whose employer, iHASCO, has delivered over 115,000 online mental health-related training sessions. “It’s a starting point – our courses offer staff a way to learn and reflect privately on their feelings and behaviour, but they also empower people to find the courage to speak up. This starts to build a company culture where talking openly about our struggles becomes more commonplace and is met with kindness and understanding. Our courses also offer a variety of simple tools, tips and ideas that help learners to manage their own wellbeing and offer support to others on a daily basis. Inclusive and supportive organisations inspire a great deal of engagement, motivation, hard work and long term loyalty from a team of individuals who feel seen, heard and cared for.”

iHASCO’s Online mental health and wellbeing training courses include Mental Health Awareness, Building resilience, Managing Anxiety and Stress Awareness & Management, and offer employees easy access to quality information to support them with their wellbeing. Online awareness training can be used alongside other practices to champion employee mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, such as creating a mental health policy, offering counselling through Employee Assistance Programmes, appointing Mental Health First Aiders, regular one-to-ones with managers or simply by promoting a healthy lifestyle and making staff aware of mental health support lines offered by charitable organisations. 

The Coronavirus lockdown acted as a catalyst for starting conversations on wellbeing as employees up and down the country had their lives drastically changed almost overnight. Whether on furlough or working from home, anxiety levels were and still are at an all time high. Employers quickly had to react to this new situation and support employees, and discussions about how best to support mental health and wellbeing were underway across the nation. In times of uncertainty those equipped to better manage their anxiety levels and be resilient have been far less likely to suffer the effects of mental ill-health. Employers who address the issue of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace will reap the rewards whilst making a positive, cultural change, whilst companies not taking action may be left behind.

www.ihasco.co.uk

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