With 2022 ending and whilst we anticipate 2023, the big story for health and safety specialists continues to be the pandemic and its challenges to employers and workplaces. There continues to be a shifting workplace and workforce in our current labour status.
Employers continue to struggle with mandating vaccinations, an issue which remains a little uncertain in the legal realm. It is advisable that health and safety professionals remember that they are not specialists in medical matters, so must engage with medical and legal experts to help guide their efforts.
Employers, who previously have had health and safety departments run voluntary clinics for flu vaccinations or other occupational therapy aids, will now need to monitor employees’ vaccination status. Health and safety professionals will need to have pandemic strategies and policies in place which will aid decision making processes for many years to come and must be part of a team that provides solutions unique to their workplace.
2. Mental health
The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. The theme of 2022’s World Mental Health Day, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, was ‘ Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority ‘.
This issue has risen in public awareness in a stratospheric way in a very short period, maybe even in the last few years. Prince William and Harry spoke about it publicly in 2019. It’s almost like the importance of looking after one’s personal mental health has not been an issue to us before.
We know of the issues WW1 soldiers had in dealing with PTSD through trauma experienced in the trenches. It was only after that period that anyone really took any notice of the problem. But even in my lifetime, we have seen soldiers coming back from Iraq in the 1990’s and not really fitting into mainstream living due to the mental stresses they were experiencing. But even then, it was a not well understood phenomena, that was never really grasped and dealt with.
Organisations are conducting surveys to collate this information. One of them is a client of ours, Cats Protection. In support of World Mental Health Day, a survey by Cats Protection showed that over nine out of ten cat owners (93.7%) state that owning a cat helped their mental health.
The activities that people said helped them the most were:
Stroking their cat (72%)
Playing with their cat (58%)
When asked whether owning a cat has a positive effect on their mental wellbeing 26.1% said ‘very much’, 21.6% said ‘quite a lot’, 23.5% said ‘a fair amount’ and 22.5% said ‘a little’.
The research was conducted as part of Cats Protection’s More Than Just a Cat campaign, which highlighted the many ways cats enhanced and enriched people’s lives.
Since the Royals spoke so openly about their mental health, it has somehow become easier to be able to be open about our own experiences. In being open about our own experiences allows us all to go through a healing process.
Prince William spoke about the importance of mental health compared to physical health: “In particular, it is a time to reflect on my responsibility to look after not just the physical health of my children, but to treat their mental needs as just as important a priority.”
There can be no doubt that the general population’s mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic.
Engaging with our workforce to understand the challenges and need for mental health support will assist health and safety experts in helping to identify solutions and services for the employer to help support employees who are suffering from mental health challenges.
3. Is it a Profession?
There are those that say that health and safety is not a profession. There is little legal recognition of health and safety practitioners. This has been a topic of debate and activity over the last few decades, and little has changed.
Think tanks and discussion groups are springing up across the country, born out of frustration to find some way to move forward in a purposeful way towards a regulated profession. The Federation of small businesses is a great advocate for greater regulation and assistance given to small businesses especially.
The same urgency is not felt by large organisations that ought to be leading the charge.
My view is that there should be governance in relation to the profession. A company of a certain size should have a health and safety manager employed, as a standard. They should be trained to a minimum level and the industry qualification should be standardised. This training is a norm with any of the trades we know of, but somehow, it is not the norm to have a trained health and safety manager working as an integral part of the team.
4. Working remotely
The workplace is changing, perhaps permanently. Many employees will have a blended workweek splitting time between the office and home. As the definition of the workplace becomes more fluid, so may the definition of being in the course of work for worker’s pay, benefits etc.
Health and safety practitioners could help employers ensure that the home workspace is safe from an ergonomic perspective. Blurred lines between home and workplace can lead to tensions between supervisors and workers. To just decide unilaterally that you are to allow employees to work from home without carrying out a site survey and risk assessment of the working environment, is clearly asking for trouble. You would never think of doing that anywhere else.
5. Workplace transitions
Transitioning back into the office will not only be about vaccination status, but what the new workplace looks like. It is unclear if the traditional cubical form would provide enough distancing and protection for workers. There are also other issues, such as employees using the same mode of transport, working as a team, or travelling for work purposes.
Transitioning back to attending a workplace can be stressful for some employees. Employers will be looking for solutions to provide reasonable accommodations and be sensitive to employee needs while ensuring company requirements.
6. Public expectations
One of the dimensions of remote work is that employees are less likely to accept poor behaviour from their leaders. The news seems full of societal backlash against public institutions where leaders are not meeting employee expectations.
Members of Parliament and senior public figures are being investigated for inappropriate behaviour.
Case in point:
The new Scotland Yard’s commissioner wants to get rid of hundreds of officers and staff he says are guilty of crimes and unethical conduct.
A report has branded the Metropolitan Police’s internal misconduct system slow and ineffective and said too many repeat offenders were being allowed to keep their jobs.
One officer had faced 11 misconduct hearings over sexual harassment, assault, fraud and other allegations. Some cases were proved, others dismissed, but they were dealt with individually; he wasn’t fired and he’s still serving in the Met.
Sir Mark Rowley said: “We’ve been slacking a bit, removing less than one a week, maybe 40 or 50 a year. Based on this report, which clearly says that we have been far too soft, there must be hundreds in the organisation I need to get rid of.
The public is demanding that these public institutions provide a psychologically safe workplace. We, as business owners or responsible managers have that same weight of responsibility upon our shoulders.
7. Cut costs, not corners
At a time when rising inflation and energy costs continue to bite, we need to find ways of cutting health and safety spending without compromising safety.
As inflation, energy and petrol prices hit record highs, businesses everywhere are looking for ways of reducing their overheads.
When it comes to rationalising, the costs associated with health & safety activities, organisations must tread carefully. The obvious cost-cutting measures – lay-offs, pay freezes, smaller training budgets, reduced spending on equipment – might deliver short-term savings but can be more harmful than beneficial to profitability in the long run. And there’s no question that such measures will weaken a company’s health & safety systems, increasing the risk of a serious breach that negate the gains made instantly.
A better approach is to focus on measures that will increase efficiency or add value in some way. Negotiating more favourable rates with suppliers; automating and digitising manual processes; embracing tech and innovation; consolidating and integrating IT systems and platforms.
By taking a smarter approach to cost rationalisation, businesses can improve their health & safety systems and gain a competitive edge simultaneously.
With that in mind, here are our tips for cutting health & safety costs without cutting corners:
A. Go paperless
One of FAME Services priorities is to go paperless in the very near future. It may seem pie in the sky thinking today, but I am sure, with determination we will be able to achieve our goal. Our health and safety systems are now all paperless. Everything is software based. Our engineers use tablets and phone Apps to deal with all manner of everyday health and safety assessments. When you consider the cost of mail, and paper, and taking things to the post office, printer maintenance and actual postage, aiming for the paperless goal should be the aim of all. In addition to the real cost of paper and printers etc, there is the real cost of storing whatever is printed. Purchasing storage folders, cabinets, rooms for the cabinets, management time in administrating the storing of the paper. Going paperless will eliminate most of these.
B. Digitise everything you can.
Digitalising health & safety processes increases productivity by streamlining workflows. As a starting point, several technologies can assist with transitioning to a digital workplace, from eSignature technology to content sharing and collaboration software and team collaboration software. FAME Services uses – WORK Wallet – a health and safety web platform.
C. Consolidate software tools
Once you have your health & safety systems online, reviewing your software usage is next. How many software tools does your team use daily – three, four, five? Many companies use one system for incident management, another for audits & inspections and yet another for safety data management. Could these be consolidated into one software platform? If so, not only would this reduce subscription costs, but it would also increase user efficiency. FAME Services has software for Incident Management and another for Health and Safety management. We are looking to see how we can integrate these systems in the future.
There may be cases where employees are put off reporting accidents or issues due to excessive paperwork or duplication of systems. In streamlining your processes into one system for reporting issues and encourage participation by making your reporting system as quick and easy to use as possible, you will reap dividends through efficiency gains and more accurate and reliable reporting of incidents and near misses.
E. Dynamic risk assessments
Traditionally, the findings of risk assessments have always been presented in person – a significant drain on time and resources. People would typically stand in a huddle to listen, and sign printed copies. Thanks to the advent of app and collaboration technology, risk assessment findings can be delivered electronically, and documentation can be read and signed via an app.
F. Embrace app technology
There are many examples of how app technology can transform health & safety processes and systems. Pre-use equipment inspections can be carried out via an app that guides the user through each step and serves as documented proof of compliance. Another example is an app to check routes for overhanging tree branches; a geolocate function identifies and takes images of any potentially dangerous trees so that a tree surgeon can be notified to remove them.
Many organisations take advantage of office apps but fail to extend this to field workers, requiring them to fill out and submit paper forms for quality checks and maintenance inspections.
Operatives can be equipped with apps that can capture data remotely, bypassing paper forms and manual processes.
G. Online training
Considerable savings can be made by switching to online training, but e-learning should be used selectively. When it comes to safety training, in particular, the consequences of not getting the messages across are enormous and potentially life-threatening – the following day, for example, that attendee might be going onto a construction site or carrying out a pre-use inspection on a forklift truck for the first time. As a general guide, if the training requires audience interaction in a classroom environment, it is better delivered in person.
H. Offset training costs
Did you know that your business can offset the costs of training courses against tax? These kinds of training courses are tax-deductible expenses. So, as well as up skilling employees and creating a safer environment, health & safety courses have financial benefits.
I. Insurance premium
Every business that employs workers must have at least £5 million in employers’ liability Insurance to cover claims of negligence made by employees who suffer injury or ill health due to their work. The size of the premium can be influenced by the quality of your health & safety risk management system. Implementing a more robust system will not only reduce your premiums in the short term but may also lead to a reduction in future claims – which will mean lower premiums.
J. Let the machines take over, where possible
As manual labour becomes an increasingly scarce commodity, the case for automation of many manual processes is becoming very compelling – and the payback period for such projects is becoming ever shorter. Front of the queue for automation are repetitive tasks involving heavy lifting; machines don’t get hurt or tired, and they don’t suffer from repetitive strain injuries.
The net result: take a long view
Cutting corners for the sake of a few pounds can end up costing you more time and money in the long run. Cost-cutting exercises might deliver short-term savings, but this will invariably be detrimental to long-term health & safety and profitability. A smarter approach requires a readiness to embrace tech, invest in innovation and take a long view. But your health & safety operation will emerge leaner, more efficient, and competitive.
8. Environment, Social, and Governance
Years ago, there was corporate social responsibility. That briefly captured the attention of health and safety professionals but never made its way into the mood of that period.
This is really about standards that are used by socially conscious people. Environmental stewardship has been with us for a long time. Social Value is how a company integrates with the community where it operates and manages its relationships with employees. Governance is about the company’s leadership, internal controls, and shareholder rights.
What has that got to do with health and safety? It could have a lot to do with it. Like anything else, these factors are a way to measure or grade our companies.
Governance is about the internal checks and balances within the company. Where someone has responsibility, they must also have accountability. This is intrinsic in the internal responsibility system model familiar to all health and safety practitioners.
Without these internal accountability mechanisms to keep the company operating efficiently and in a socially responsible manner, the company could be open to significant losses, either financial or in reputation.
The health and safety management system are all about the company’s relationship with its employees and how it values its employees. It focuses on the interaction of responsibility and accountability. A socially responsible company that is also stewarding to the environment would prioritise a safe workplace for employees, including a psychologically safe workplace.
9. Supply chain
We are all aware of the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. However, the effect on health and safety will be as marked as any other industry. Most people perceive this to be a shortage of supply. Shortages and personal protective equipment at work sites. That will undoubtedly be the case.
However, the supply shortage will likely also lead to fake or cheap reproductions of personal protective equipment. This has always been a problem, but it is likely to become more of an issue where there are shortages, and companies turn to different suppliers to fulfil their needs.
Health and safety practitioners need to be wary of equipment coming from new or different suppliers since it may not actually meet the standards stamped or stencilled upon it.
10. Legal landscape
2023 may be an interesting year for legal precedents. We already see cases in court over mandatory vaccinations.
Worker’s compensation boards are accepting claims for deaths related to COVID 19 that is assumed to have been contracted in the workplace.
Employers have a responsibility to address known workplace hazards. Health and safety practitioners can assist their employers by helping them understand the risks associated with failing to properly consider the hazards, things like COVID 19 and harassment.