As we have moved away from the certainty in the message “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” to a more uncertain world as we emerge from lockdown, there are major health and safety challenges to contend with.
The first challenge is in the policy and procedure – coming up with safe ways of working. The second challenge is in the mind – particularly worth considering as Mental Health Awareness Week has recently passed.
The mental health legacy of COVID-19
Beyond the physical symptoms of those infected, COVID-19 has affected us all differently in our minds. We probably all have fears about the health of loved ones and ourselves. Some will have worries about childcare, others about job security. There’ll be certain workers who will dread the thought of restarting a commute on public transport. Another set will just be desperate to get back to their normal routine at work. We each have our own personal medley of concerns.
It is a given that if you want to fire up business operations you will have to implement COVID-19 secure practices following a risk assessment. Due to the mental health aspect, you will have to give serious thought to the way you take your team with you on the journey ahead.
Reassuring your team – ensuring they believe in what you are doing
This is both from a moral standpoint – wanting to do the right thing – and a legal one. Employment law protects people who believe there is a significant and imminent danger to their mental or physical health in the workplace. They can refuse to work and if you dismissed them for it, you could possibly face a tribunal
A main defence is to be able to prove that you acted reasonably. Better still, if you do act reasonably there is far less chance of your employment relationships deteriorating to the point of tribunal in the first place.
So as businesses consider reopening, we urge owners and managers to take a breath and think about, not only the tangible actions they need to take, but also how they win the hearts and minds of their teams (and customers).
This certainly means involving stakeholders, such as employees, in the planning; being sympathetic to their concerns, even if you do not share them; and being flexible as time moves on – your plan will change over time.
In fact, on this point we foresee that COVID-19 will become a standing item on management meeting agendas way into the future. For a long time to come, you’ll need to review the processes you have in place regularly against the changing landscape, and also the impact they are having on people in the business.
As well as involving your team in the COVID-19 secure planning, it will be essential to communicate policy clearly once it is decided upon. Being transparent will be vital for getting their buy-in.
It means not only telling people what is happening, but WHY. For instance, if you consider that some staff need PPE whilst others don’t, or some must continue to work from home whilst others must come in, share the reasons. Be prepared for some pushback and don’t forget that employee perception of risk is relevant and needs to be taken into account.
Being ready for a culture change
Many businesses will experience a culture shift due to the changes they have to make: more remote working, staggered start and finish times, decisions about PPE. Again, mental health might be the hidden extra challenge here.
What effect do changing workloads, workplaces and practices have on individuals and the overall culture? This may well fall under your duty of care as an employer to manage from a well-being perspective.
One way to get ready for this is to introduce mental health training for managers and staff. Covering topics like stress management, it will support your teams as they get used to the new normal ways of working. Introducing these skills to your company will benefit both the business and your employees.
An extra curve ball if you deal with the public
The retail sector, among others, will have an extra curve ball: the public. From a health and safety perspective this needs thought. One awkward customer presents a risk to your staff and other customers. How do you ensure compliance with your rules?
On the flipside, if a customer’s perception is that you are not taking reasonable measures – rightly or wrongly – a phone call to the council or HSE could cause you all kinds of difficulties. How do you demonstrate your safety measures to people visiting?
Get COVID-19 secure, get your team on board
Challenging times, and a lot to think about. If you want professional support in drawing up a COVID-19 secure plan that works for you, your employees and the public, please get in touch. We are already working with many businesses up and down the UK on this, and can bring our knowledge and experience to you too.
As well as risk assessments and planning, we can also provide mental health training – both via eLearning and in person. Just ask us to see our range of training courses.