Health & Safety: Supporting Sustainable Economic Recovery
An economic downturn following the COVID-19 pandemic is widely reported in the news. Plus, there’s an understandable anxiety amongst many about going back to the workplace. As a result, lots of small businesses are concerned about how they will return to more ‘normal’ operations.
The Government has released anticipated timelines allowing businesses to make plans for the coming months. Many business owners may not automatically think about consulting with a H&S professional to support their planning. However, it’s times like these when H&S can demonstrate a real commercial advantage to businesses.
Taking the time now to consider how a business will return to operating later this year, will help ensure a smooth transition. This should ensure premises are re-occupied safely, in-line with current guidelines and with reduced concerns from employees. What’s more, this approach will facilitate a speedier return to productivity and recovery.
Social Distancing in the Workplace
One of the key concerns for any business between now and Autumn, is how to operate in-line with the Government social distancing requirements.
The HSE have made it clear they will take action against businesses who fail to follow the relevant Government guidelines. This can range from a Prohibition Notice, which could effectively close a business for a day or more, down to guidance and support. Don’t forget that HSE guidance and support sometimes comes with a price tag under the Fees for Intervention regime.
The Government guidelines for industry sectors are, understandably, generic. It would be almost impossible to centrally produce guidance that match every workplace, business size and culture. Employers and business owners are therefore left to interpret these guidelines and establish how best to incorporate them into their working environment.
Once a plan is in place, there remains the potential push-back from employees. Many may be concerned about returning to a workplace where they might feel exposed to the new hazard we face. This is where Risk Assessments come into play and where the support of a qualified Health and Safety Professional can identify the most effective route to compliance.
Undertaking a risk assessment requires an understanding of the legislation, science and guidelines. However, there is an equally important requirement to understand the workplace, the hazards and the people working and implementing any controls that result from the risk assessment. It is key, probably now more than ever, that employees are included in the risk assessment process.
The skill of a Health and Safety professional is to bring together several streams of information into a decision–making process from which the risk assessment and safe systems of work are the output.
Employees have protection if they refuse to work and cite Health and Safety concerns. And as we mentioned earlier, the HSE can take enforcement action if they feel employers are not managing the risks associated with the Coronavirus. In both cases, the proper completion of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment will put the employer in a strong position.
During these uncertain times, timely intervention by a Health and Safety Professional can help a business understand the actions they need to take. This can save time and provide clarity around proportionate and effective controls. Further, it will help reduce anxiety in the workforce and provide a timely, structured, controlled and cost-effective approach to safe and secure business operations.