Just a few months ago no-one could have imagined the crisis that we have been through and that many are still going through as a direct result of Covid-19.
The unprecedented scale of the crisis took most people by surprise and it’s now a fact of life that Covid-19 is here and we are going to be living with it for the foreseeable future at the very least.
Many companies who were forced to close for lock down are now making tentative steps to reopen and get their staff back to work. There has been a rise in the level of anxiety in society in general and with this in mind it is vital that the back to work process is managed carefully in regard to health and safety and wellbeing.
Management of Health and Safety
Employees wellbeing is a business’s most important asset and being prepared should be at the top of the list for any company bringing their staff back. It is crucial that employees feel comfortable and confident about returning to work and the employer should have the necessary procedures in place in order for them to do this.
Starting point is the requirement for compliance with the obligations in sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – which states that all reasonably practicable steps must be taken so as to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your workers and anyone else impacted by your operations. Included within this is a requirement to stay updated with any work related risks posed by Covid-19 and the planning and implementation of all reasonably practicable risk reduction mitigations.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to undertake “suitable and sufficient” risk assessments of the health and safety risks faced by their employees, as well as non-employees who are affected by their operations. Where a business employs 5 or more personnel these risk assessments must be in writing and reviewed and updated as and when required. Knowledge and facts about COVID-19 and the associated risks are changing regularly, so it is important to keep abreast of the latest developments and act accordingly.
Including the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, there are a number of other regulations that also require attention with the back to work process.
Mental Health Awareness
An issue that has come into huge focus during the crisis is that of mental health.
The risks to people’s health from the Covid-19 pandemic are psychological as well as physical and include anxiety about the ongoing health crisis and fear of infection, as well as social isolation caused by the lockdown.
Numerous people have experienced challenging domestic situations as well as financial strains due to loss or reduction of income.
Some have faced bereavement and illness and even if they have managed to work from home, the return to a shared working environment can take some adjustment.
Everyone is different and the employer should take this into account when deciding who and when to bring back.
There is plenty of help and advice available to assist employers with the return to work process and the HSE and Government web sites provide lots of guidance and direction.