Health and Safety cannot become ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in the hybrid working environment
Malcolm Tullett, Founder of health and safety consultancy Risk and Safety Plus, looks at how the coronavirus pandemic has affected how we work and looks at what line managers and employers should be doing to help hybrid workers.
For many of us, working life as we knew it may never return to the pre-COVID ‘normal’ and whether you are an employer or employee, a new, different workplace will need to be navigated.
The big questions about who, when and how to bring staff back to the workplace need careful and sensitive consideration and are already challenging the skills of many line managers, employers and business owners.
During the coronavirus pandemic, employers’ health and safety obligations remained the same and in place for staff irrespective of their work location. Individual assessments should have been carried out for all remote workers to make sure their ‘home’ environment was safe and appropriate for the duties and tasks they needed to perform, with regular contact and check ins agreed and implemented too.
Organisations adapted and prioritised how to manage their businesses and staff, both on-site and remotely, but with restrictions lifting and furlough ending, a lack of care within duty of care responsibilities may well prove costly.
It is likely that a hybrid work model will be the workplace of the future, with managers needing to adopt a more individual, empathetic and flexible approach to every staff member. Any ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality will need to be replaced with an ‘out of sight, mindful’ mentality. Line managers may well need additional training to ensure they have the right skills and methods to effectively support the wellbeing of their teams whilst also protecting staff performance and productivity for the business.
Safety and health practitioners have a huge part to play in this COVID bounce back era and could be the driving force for replacing the duty of care tick box mentality with a more intuitive and empathic care management system.
Health and safety practitioners are uniquely placed to use their skills, experiences, training and instincts to help their clients and employers prioritise staff wellbeing, which is essential to keeping people and property safe. Whilst it may seem ‘safer’ to keep some staff working from home to avoid exposure to possible COVID infection, that should not be the sole or top consideration. Enabling clients and employers to carry out the appropriate risk assessments regarding staff members’ health and safety either at work or at home will help them make informed decisions.
Individual staff needs and circumstances need to be considered alongside data and external factors and should not exclude a manager’s own gut feeling. It is essential that the ‘care’ element of the duty of care is properly in place.
Regular and effective communications are vital to hybrid working models and its essential to find ways to keep strong cohesion within work teams. If someone is not in sight, and working remotely, they may well need more management support and time – not less!
Prior to COVID, loneliness and isolation were recognised as contributors to mental health issues such as depression and often attributed to older people. COVID restrictions have shown that isolation and loneliness can hit anyone irrespective of age and circumstances and that it will certainly impact on staff efficiency and productivity, not to mention possible increases in lost working days.
So, has hybrid working changed how health and safety practitioners approach clients?
We do have room to be optimistic about the new developments. As a health and safety professional, I have always tried to find solutions for my clients by consciously looking at their issues and requirements through their eyes and then balancing that with the regulations and health and safety objectives.
It also means that my own company, has seen the need to add new products, transform existing service offerings and recruit additional expertise. We do the heavy lifting for clients by offering a complete and comprehensive solution to all their needs. It’s important to remain fully compliant when rules and regulations are under constant review and often change with little notice. But providing exceptional and adaptable health and safety services takes much more than that. Health and safety is highly regulated and rightly so, but COVID has introduced additional burdens to managers and employers which require a response that goes beyond simply meeting those rules.
During the last 18 months, my business has seen a greater demand for HR support and expertise and indeed, health and safety organisations seem to be playing a significant part in wellbeing education and implementation. The evolving role of health and safety professionals in this hybrid and ‘new different’ is very exciting and we all need to embrace it for the benefit of our clients, employers and the sector in general.
About the author
Malcolm Tullett is a seasoned Health and Safety expert with over 25 years of experience advising Principal and Senior Managers about health and safety. With a background working in the London Fire Brigade, and as the founder of health and safety consultancy Risk and Safety Plus, he is well versed in helping organisations adapt the art of caring into health and safety processes, extending it beyond the basic compliance. His recently released ‘Risk It’, a comprehensive guide to helping anyone with a duty of care for people and property use their intuition to revolutionise risk taking and health and safety practices.
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