Four industry leaders discuss how workplaces continue to change in the face of new and emerging risks after two years of the COVID pandemic.
Emma Larkins CMIOSH
Consultant and tutor, The Bradley Group
Many employers and employees are experiencing the benefits of flexible working and the rise of technological adaptations. Agile working is a clear emerging risk. We will likely see a surge in musculoskeletal complaints, following the overnight implementation of work at home guidance. Flexible working structures may reduce driving risks, but reduced capacity in offices will impact on other areas of risk. Will you have enough fire wardens to implement your procedures? Will there be a first aider available? Do you have lone workers where you didn’t before? Employers will need to be mindful of the full impact of changing working practices.
Amy Goldsbrough CMIOSH
Regional health and safety manager (North West), Unite Students
In a short space of time, we found ourselves working in offices full of floor stickers and posters that tell us how far to stand apart, alongside screens and sanitisers. Shaking hands was not considered a risk by most, yet now we’re still struggling to get back to it. Within the purpose-built student accommodation sector, our employees often need to enter customer homes for maintenance, cleaning and wellbeing checks. The way our employees carried out these tasks changed overnight. We had to review every procedure and risk assessment to detail a safer way to protect our employees as well as our customers.
John McNamee CMIOSH
Co-founder and principal consultant at Ravensdale Health, Safety & Wellbeing
Following the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases and emergence of the Omicron variant, there is no sign of normal working arrangements returning any time soon. Those employers with robust and inclusive wellbeing strategies that place the health and welfare of their employees at the centre will attract and retain people with similar values, which in turn will only serve to strengthen their overall health, safety and wellbeing culture. There is always hope that the pandemic may lead to some real long-term positives too: lower levels of stress, reduced road risk (and costs), improved work/life balance and possibly a re-evaluation of societal values.
Samantha Mepham CMIOSH
Partner, health and safety, Rider Levett Bucknall
Beyond ‘Teams fatigue’, musculoskeletal complaints and the confusion caused between face coverings and PPE, we must consider logistical complications in construction, building and fire management: limitations in supplies and welfare, varying occupancy levels, the availability of ‘competent people’ to maintain and operate key equipment, and the general risk of restricted access to medical care, with some reluctant to attend at all. As the situation keeps changing, we must evolve to meet the demands to maintain safe and healthy workplaces.