Author Bio ▼

Dr Nick Bell is a Chartered Fellow of IOSH and a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management.Nick supports Principal Designers and construction Clients to comply with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM). He delivers accredited CDM training and has been advising on construction projects up to £3.2bn in value..In October 2018 Nick successfully defended his PhD thesis in which he examined the association between worker engagement and behaviour.  His work has attracted interest from across the globe.  He is now Managing Director of Workfulness Ltd and continues his CDM-related work.
May 19, 2020

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the ‘new normal’

Horizon scanning: Questions about the ‘new normal’

At present, there are still more questions than answers regarding coronavirus. It is unclear when or how the UK ‘lockdown’ will end (which the Tony Blair Foundation for Global Change recently sought to address with its report focussing on a sustainable exit strategy). Regardless of the UK’s approach for lifting lockdown, we will be living in what is euphemistically called a ‘new normal’. This creates new challenges and opportunities for the health and safety and allied professions.


Do organisations need restart strategies?

A day after lockdown, people will not skip back to work as if nothing happened. While the UK is deciding on it’s exit strategy, organisations need to consider their own restart strategies. This could include some practical measures, such as refresher training for more complex tasks or explaining new workplace procedures. However, it could be helpful to hold group and one-to-one sessions to help staff rebond and offload by sharing experiences (and possibly grievances – not everyone will feel that their organisation coped well). These discussions could also highlight what additional support workers might need.

Will we face a labour surplus/less stable employment?

Despite the government’s support packages, some organisations are taking drastic steps to stay afloat and some have collapsed altogether. For example, Higher Education organisations are making hundreds of staff on fixed term/insecure contracts redundant. In the short term, there will be a huge pool of jobseekers. Organisations are also likely to be nervous about a second wave of coronavirus or another lockdown. This could prompt greater use of fixed term, insecure or zero-hour contracts. This introduces a range of potential challenges, such as workers feeling little ‘identification’ with their manager, team or organisation (possibly leading to higher turnover etc.). They may have less appreciation of tried and tested ways of working (which may not be written down) or the resources available to help them deal with the realities of work.

Are Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) fit for purpose?

Many people have suffered loss or hardship during this crisis. Employees are unlikely to work productively if they are not effectively managing problems or anxieties. Organisations may need to invest more heavily in promoting EAP and checking that the provider is effectively helping workers cope with difficulties.

Will presenteeism become a new workplace stigma?

For many years, occupational health professionals and psychologists, such as Dr Roxanne Gervais, have raised concerns about presenteeism. This is when an ill person attends works, for a variety of reasons, when they should be recuperating at home. The person is unlikely to work effectively and could be more prone to making harmful mistakes. Their recovery time may be extended and they could cause others to become ill. Coronavirus illustrated that just issuing guidance on self-isolation was largely ineffective. It is foreseeable that organisations will need robust and fair systems for discouraging presenteeism. It is also likely that co-workers will take a dim view of colleagues who attend work coughing and spluttering (and could lead to grievances).

How do we cope with the impact of extended shielding of older people (and other vulnerable groups)?

If older people need ongoing isolation, older workers may be unable to return to work for an extended period (possibly fuelling the need for home working). Younger workers might have also relied on older family members for childcare support. This may no longer be an option and these workers may also need to shop for family members who remain in isolation. Organisations ought to consider how to provide greater flexibility for workers, and more flexible working hours or home working could be options.

Will home working become the new normal?

Home working is not practical for everyone. Where home working has been feasible, individuals and organisations may have experienced a range of benefits (such as less time and money ‘wasted’ in daily commutes). There is an ever-expanding range of articles on how to overcome the challenges of home working. Organisations could draw on this and the lessons learned during lockdown to create an effective home working policy.

Will there be new opportunities for disabled staff?

Disabled workers might struggle to overcome barriers associated with traditional models of work, such as commuting to work. More homeworking and less travel will remove many of these barriers. This could give organisations access to a much wider and diverse pool of talent.

There could undoubtedly be an array of other impacts such as;

  • Physical reorganisation of workplaces to support social distancing/limit transmission of coronavirus;
  • A deeper appreciation of respiratory and ‘invisible’ risks;
  • More attention to emergency preparedness;
  • Organisations resuming operations with less or less experienced staff (if they had to ‘downsize’) or different suppliers (if previous suppliers are no longer trading);
  • A new wave of interest in the use of robots/artificial intelligence.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
4 years ago

So returners going to be volunteering, unless consent obtained, to take part in an ongoing experiment to see how resilient human resources are to “sub-optimal” working conditions and whether current levels of presenteeism can be sustained with the added, potentially predictable risk, of working through hurd immunity to COVID-19, as well preexisting visual repetitive stress injuries experienced by 58% of DSE operators using standard contrast expediently avoiding risk assessment, colour contrast validation of in-house or external websites and, of course, individuals display screen interface.