Pandemic highlights the benefits of prioritising people
Three years ago, when Covid-19 first shook the world, some organisations were much better prepared than others to cope with its impact. Among them was EMCOR UK, a built environment business that had already established a people-focused culture and implemented rigorous standards and policies to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees. The company’s caring, risk-aware approach helped it weather the Covid-19 storm and it continues to build upon, and benefit from, its enlightened policies.
EMCOR UK provides high-performance, sustainable, integrated facilities and workplace management. With over 4,000 employees, it delivers services in industry sectors including government, defence, nuclear, life sciences, and hi-tech manufacturing.
Since well before the pandemic, the company’s board had embarked on a long-term wellbeing strategy that takes a proactive and sustainable approach to employee health and safety. As Jonathan Gawthrop, Executive Director Wellbeing Sustainability & Assurance, explains, “We operate in some of the most complex and highly regulated workplaces in the UK, so we’ve long understood the need for a robust health and safety framework to provide assurance to our customers and to the regulatory bodies that oversee them.”
EMCOR UK’s thorough approach to governance and risk management has meant maintaining rigorous occupational health and safety protocols. These initially included certification by BSI to the well-established occupational health and safety standard BS OHSAS 18001, which was succeeded in 2019 by ISO 45001.
Gawthrop continues, “We were one of the first 10 companies globally to be awarded ISO 45001. We wanted to be on the front foot with our customers, who have since come to expect the standard, but we also liked ISO 45001’s broader approach, moving explicitly beyond health and safety processes to talk about people and organisational culture.”
With its primary business purpose being to create a better world at work, EMCOR UK recognises its organisation-wide responsibility to protect and promote the wellbeing of its people. “It’s not just about safety officers with hard hats and clipboards, noting down where incidents have taken place,” says Gawthrop. “It’s much more about engaging people across the business, identifying risks and taking preventative measures.”
The company sees this approach not only as responsible, sustainable business practice, but as a key driver of performance through the creation of a healthier, happier, more motivated workforce. And when Covid-19 spread rapidly around the world, forcing the company to implement a raft of urgent new health and safety policies and procedures, certification to ISO 45001 reaped further benefits. “The standard is the framework that we depend on for exemplar safety delivery, and we were able to build quickly and effectively on top of that, with a high level of staff buy-in,” says Gawthrop.
Maintaining mental health
Among the most significant challenges caused or exacerbated by the pandemic have been psychosocial issues affecting mental wellbeing – such as isolation caused by office closures and homeworking. “Traditionally, we’d focused largely on physical health and safety, but now we want to give equal weight to both physical and mental wellbeing,” says Gawthrop.
A major step in this direction has been to become the first organisation in the world to achieve certification against BSI’s psychological health and safety scheme. The scheme is based on ISO 45003, the first international standard to provide practical guidance on managing psychological health and safety in the workplace, which was published in June 2021.
Psychosocial hazards at work or in the workplace include any factors that adversely affect individuals’ physical, mental, cognitive or emotional health, from excessive workload to harassment and bullying. Their negative impacts can include increased costs due to absence, reduced ability to work effectively, and increased staff turnover.
To achieve certification to the scheme EMCOR UK underwent a rigorous independent assessment by BSI. The audit showed it has an effective and systematic approach to the management of psychosocial risk, with feedback from staff highlighting a supportive, inclusive environment, where they can grow and develop, and also feel safe in discussing personal and professional issues.
“Certification demonstrates that we have a robust structure in place to identify and manage mental health risks,” says Gawthrop.
People who care
He continues, “We’re proud that our long-term wellbeing strategy has been rigorously tested by BSI against global standards. It shows we’re compliant with our ‘People Who Care’ value, that our commitment to physical and mental health is not merely a ‘tick box’ exercise, and that we identify opportunities for continuous improvement.”
Gawthrop concludes, “Our BSI certifications demonstrate our determination to build an organisational culture that fosters a safe and positive working environment.”
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