Health and safety at work, always a topic of prime importance to employers, has taken on new meaning in 2020, with an increased focus on occupational health. This includes both individual and social factors such as mental health, and the more obvious risks of injury in the work environment. The spread of the COVID-19 virus in the UK has had such a widespread impact that many occupational health professionals now believe that they have insufficient resources to cope with the rise in demand for their services. How will this affect business owners?
Policy shifts and stress
The UK government's response has evolved from keeping people away from close contact in the occupational environment, to a policy of returning them to the workplace where possible. This comes alongside conflicting regulations restricting in-person gatherings, and is, not unnaturally, causing the country's workforce a great deal of concern. People already suffering from loneliness in isolation, stress caused by financial problems, and fears about their job security, are now afraid of contracting the virus in the workplace.
Even in the early days of the pandemic, mental health issues among the population were rising, many of which could be attributed to work-related concerns. Specifically COVID-related stresses have since manifested in many workers forced to furlough, self-isolate and/or work alone at home, including depression and even PTSD. An about-turn in policy brings another lifestyle readjustment, magnifying the existing strain. It also places a heavy burden of care and responsibility in the hands of business owners and employers. On top of the economic impact of the lockdown, they must now upgrade the occupational environment so that the fears of the returning workforce can be allayed.
Increased demand for expert help
The Health and Safety Executive guidelines for managing risk in the workplace have been revised to include recommendations for risk assessment in relation to COVID-19. Many business owners and employers will also want to consult occupational health experts, but there simply aren't as many as are needed. The NHS list of accredited occupational health practitioners offers fewer than 40 UK centres, all of which are struggling to cope with the increased demand for their services. More employers are therefore having to use their own initiative to research best practice.
Help for employers
The Society for Occupational Medicine, for example, offers a wide variety of resources for risk assessment and other topics related to COVID-19. Employers may also seek help from the many major institutions that are now issuing online guidance. The CBI (Confederation of British Industry), CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), and ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) are just a few of the many professional organisations that are publishing their own guidelines. These include advice on how the workplace must be adapted to allow for the required space, the supply of appropriate PPE, and the introduction of new working practices.
In the event that an occupational health professional is not readily available to you, our team of experts can provide advice and assistance on finding the best resources for general Health & Safety Management issues and Risk Assessment.