By Nick Wilson, Director of Health & Safety Services at Ellis Whittam, a former HSE inspector, and a chartered safety practitioner (www.elliswhittam.com)
The recent easing of Covid restrictions came as a long-awaited relief. However, we’re not out of the woods yet and a two-fold challenge has emerged, particularly for employers and employees in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors.
Firstly, let’s be clear, regardless of the timing and the easing of rules and restrictions, coronavirus has not vanished as we all would have liked.This is still very much an occupational hazard which we cannot eliminate and it’s therefore essential businesses don’t drop Covid-secure measures entirely.
The jury is out on the effectiveness of some controls such as lockdowns, isolation periods, foreign travel and face coverings – although the requirement to wear these in many public spaces remains.What has worked however, and what will continue to work will be social distancing between individuals where possible, regular cleaning, good personal hygiene, ventilation, isolation of positive/suspected cases and for businesses to have an emergency action plan to deal with potential outbreaks.Arguably some of these actions are good practice in public areas, regardless of a pandemic.
Secondly, with life returning to a degree of normality, now is a vitally important time for employers to focus on other areas of safety and staff training which could easily have been overlooked or lacking in priority in recent weeks.
Health & Safety Executive stats released in July show that more workplace fatalities were recorded in Great Britain last year, despite fewer people working.Tragically, 142 workers were killed at work between March 2020 and March 2021, up from 111 the year prior.While many of these deaths were in sectors such as construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, it certainly suggests that staff absence and changes in the workforce caused by Covid could have compromised safety standards in the workplace.
These figures should serve as a timely reminder to us all – employers must ensure they’re doing all that is reasonably practicable to protect workers and others affected by their work activities. For several organisations now getting back to business, this includes consumers.
The tribulations of the past 18 months have had many consequences on every type of workplace.With more normal operation returning as we emerge from the pandemic, employers need to make sure they have carefully reviewed all their risk assessments, in particular identifying where process, equipment and staffing may have changed or reverted.
My advice to businesses is to involve your team members in your review, communicate your findings back to them, and ensure follow-up action.With the full reopening of retail, hospitality and leisure, there are now thousands of new young workers entering these sectors, in addition to recent returners from furlough. Robust training for new staff as well as refresher training for others is vital in ensuring everyone remains as safe as possible. Continuing to focus on safety means every consumer-facing business can let their customers again enjoy what they have to offer with full confidence.
For free resources including guides and templates for risk assessments and employment policies visit https://elliswhittam.com/resources