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Covid-19 – A guide to managing the return to workplace

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The future of work is changing, and Covid-19 has brought extraordinary challenges to businesses across the globe. Staff have been furloughed, allowed to work from home or continued to work as ‘normal’, however this situation is far from normal. The way people work going forward will change and what seemed impossible just a few months ago is now becoming the new norm. Covid-19 has created a new way of working for individuals and organisations and in this paper, we examine what that might look like when returning to work.

Without any clear guidelines we can only use our knowledge to predict what challenges organisations may face when returning to work. This guide will help identify potential risks, put in place solutions to reduce the risks and improve wellbeing and performance.

When do we reopen?

Once the government has given clear instructions that you can restart work, then make sure that everything is in place as per the following guidance, decide who and when are going to come back to work, give clear dates and stick to them, unless there is further conflicting advice from the government. Remember that all staff do not necessarily need to come back, if they have been just as effective working from home, then why not consider this as a permanent situation.

 

The office environment

The office environment will operate in a way we have never witnessed before. Covid-19 has brought along many new challenges for organisations and has made them question how they value the health and wellbeing of their employees. In the past many organisations have viewed employee health and wellbeing as a nice to have, rather than a business priority. Witnessing the devastating effect, the crisis has had on employee’s mental and physical wellbeing has forced organisations to readdress the importance of having a healthy workforce. Employees may be anxious about returning to work for the fear of catching Covid-19. Organisations have a legal obligation to identify and manage risk in the workplace and this includes the risk of cross-contamination and psychosocial risk. Performing a risk assessment allows organisations to implement a hierarchy of control measures to eliminate the risk as far as is reasonably possible or to minimise exposure to risk if total elimination is not viable. The adverse situation organisations have found themselves in will hopefully create opportunity for a healthier working future.

 

Physical Risk Social Distancing

Physical interaction should be kept to a minimum and staff should adhere to the 2m social distance rule. To adapt a safe working environment, it may be necessary to implement a rota or shift work that enables the business to operate but without putting the health of the workforce in jeopardy. It is important to remember that social distancing is not just about the time spent at the desk, it is also about time spent in public spaces such as washrooms, kitchens, lifts, walkways, and meeting rooms. It is recommended that only 1 person enters the washrooms at any one time and signage should be used to identify if it is vacant or occupied. Meetings should be kept to a minimum and where possible held virtually rather than face to face. Breaks should be staggered to allow minimum contact in rest and canteen areas. If it is not possible to keep a social distance of 2m to perform necessary work, then a maximum time of 15 minutes should be spent in the location. Clear guidelines should be set within organisations to help alleviate the fear staff may have about returning to the work environment.

 

Workplace hygiene

It is recommended that a deep clean takes place before employees return to work. Keeping a clear and clutter-free workspace will help make the cleaning process easier for staff. Other considerations are how to minimise the possibility of cross-infection when entering the building and opening doors and organisations should consider investing in automatic hand sanitisers in well-used spaces. Organisations may also wish to offer a ‘temperature check’ before staff enter the workplace, but this alone does not highlight the presence of the disease. It is not just about contamination from the things we first consider. How shared resources are used will have to be readdressed, i.e. will the shared teabag pot still be suitable or will staff need to take their own supplies to use whilst at work? Encourage good hygiene such as hand washing and etiquette around sneezing and coughing and make resources available for staff, such as tissues and hand sanitiser on the desks (catch it, bin it, kill it). Put strict rules in place of ‘stay at home when demonstrating symptoms of Covid-19’ and have a plan in place should a member of staff come down with Covid-19 after attending the workplace. Consideration must be given to personal protective equipment (PPE) if personal risk cannot be managed with the above actions. This may be something as simple as a pair of gloves to protect employees when using a shared resource, to full PPE. This decision will need to form part of your overall risk assessment. Communication is key During this unprecedented time we are facing; many workplace procedures will change, and it is vitally important that any changes are communicated to staff clearly and timely. Ensure strategic information is shared and that regular contact is kept with staff whether they work from home or are on furlough. Arrange a coffee and catch up at regular times as this will help individuals feel they are still part of the organisation and help reduce the feeling of isolation. Changes may need to be made to contracts or training schedules and changes communicated clearly demonstrating why these changes are taking place. Implementing ‘Post Covid-19’ guidelines for staff will help them to understand what is required of them and the business during these uncertain times. Psychosocial risk Before the Pandemic 72.8{521fff0b5c5df9be79ed2eb51208a3348e3603738502aa79015e62ae4188a36b} of businesses stated that pressurised work was the biggest organisational threat and 59{521fff0b5c5df9be79ed2eb51208a3348e3603738502aa79015e62ae4188a36b} stated that mental health was a key driver but going forward this figure is likely to be much higher. Psychosocial risk and work-related stress are among the most challenging issues in occupational health and safety and with current circumstances compromising the mental health and wellbeing of so many, psychosocial risks must be managed effectively. Psychosocial risk arises from poor work design, organisation, and management, as well as a poor social context of work, and they may result in negative psychological, physical and social outcomes such as work-related stress, burnout or depression. The changes in the working environment over the past few months have been colossal and how well or not so well these have been managed will start to show in the coming months. The exceptional times of Covid-19 have forced employers to take a more flexible approach to the way employees work, offering flexibility on workload, autonomy over the way they work, and an increased level of trust. Managers are cited as having a more empathetic style of management and better relationships being formed through a shared understanding of what each person is going through. Communication has been increased and people are taking the time to talk to each other, and ‘check-in’ rather than just send emails. This time has shown that the way in which organisations control psychosocial risk is vitally important in addressing levels of workplace stress. Offering a level of autonomy over job roles, having a supportive culture, building positive relationships, communicating change and offering a level of flexibility is essential going forward if organisations want to manage the risk to mental health and wellbeing. Over the past few weeks many positive lessons have been learnt about psychosocial risks in the workplace and hopefully this will change the way in which employee mental wellbeing is viewed going forward.

 

People needs versus organisational needs

The control of where to work and when has shifted from an employer-led decision to an employee-led decision with employers have little influence over things. As employees juggle to manage carer responsibilities, home-schooling and work, a new level of flexibility has been unearthed along with increased autonomy over job roles. Whilst many employees have relished this new way of working others long to be back in their normal workplace with their colleagues and working as they are used to. Only 3 months back the thought that most of the workforce would be working from home would have sent many organisations into a spin, it seemed impossible until it was done. This new way of working is seen as an opportunity for many and has allowed them to spend less time commuting and more time communicating with their families. The forced time away from the office has led many people to readdress their priorities and it is predicted that demands for agile working will increase and this new wave of flexibility will become the norm, whilst this may not be the preferred way to operate for organisations this largest natural experiment has proven that it can be done!

 

How to ensure staff are fit for work

 

Managing the return to work process is not as simple as ‘business as usual’. Organisations will need to consider what the return to work process looks like and how will they establish if people are healthy and well. Firstly, organisations need to consider who will return to work and when, is it a case of survival of the fittest or will you adopt a different mechanism for selection? Many employees will be classed as high risk and may not be able to return to work in the first instance. Consideration also needs to be given to staff who were previously off sick and staff who have become sick during lock-down. It is also worth considering how the limited access to medical care has impacted on individual health. You may find staff have accumulated longer term health problems by not getting the immediate care they required, and they may need additional support during this time. Hopefully, regular communication via videocall has been an ongoing process and managers have a clear understanding of how their staff are keeping. However, it is still recommended that some form of health diagnostic is performed prior to staff returning to work. It may be in the form of a health questionnaire or preferably a face to face video return to work call. Asking staff how they are feeling at this stage is vitally important to managing the health and wellbeing return to work process. Not everyone may be able to return to work in the initial phase. Organisations may need to adopt shift work, part time working or phased return to work in order to maintain safe social distancing. Organisations will also need to plan for what action needs to be taken if a staff member becomes ill with Covid-19 whilst at work and plan for what adaptations may need to be made to accommodate post Covid-19 employees (Covid-19 may leave awith reduced lung capacity). What is paramount is that mental and physical health considerations are at the forefront of the return. If organisations do not establish a robust return to work process, they will most likely experience longer-term issues further down the line.

How to support employee mental health both now and in the future

The personal impact of Covid-19 Employees is all going to be affected by the crisis in different ways. For some, it has been a time of realisation, growth, and appreciation whilst for others it has been a time of fear, trauma and grief. Cases of domestic abuse, mental illness, and suicide have increased, and this will impact on individuals when they return to work. The financial situation has put many individuals under increased pressures and compromised the health of themselves and their families. Having a clear understanding of employee needs during this time is paramount to managing mental health and wellbeing. Individuals have all been through their journey and it is up to employers to understand what journey their staff have been on and how this will impact them now and in the future. The pandemic has compromised the mental health of so many. It is not just about employees who have previously experienced poor mental health there are many new cases with people suffering from increased anxiety. Organisations need to ensure that staff are mentally well to return to work, identifying individual’s concerns and helping to alleviate the fear will help make the process more manageable. Ensuring support systems are in place such as occupational health, employee assistance programmes, health care plans and health training will help reduce the risk of poor mental health.

Out of adversity comes opportunity

No health and wellbeing strategy could have prepared for the enormity of the situation we now find ourselves in. However, there is evidence to suggest that organisations who have a robust workplace health and wellbeing strategy in place outperform organisations with no strategy. Aligning the health needs of your workplace to the needs of your business is key to improving both employee and business outcomes.

Remember:

  1. Decide when to reopen.
  2. Carry out a risk assessment for the new way the premises will operate.
  3. Manage the potential spread of the virus.
  4. Disinfect and modify the premises, as necessary.
  5. Screen employees prior to re start and then monitor them.
  6. Provide clear details of new systems, resources and regimes.
  7. Ensure everything is in place prior to reopening, consult professionals, as necessary.
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Health & Safety is everyone’s business

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There are certain functions within Health & Safety that apply to all personnel, whet

her they are in the office, on the road or on site. Although the communication and delivery of these functions may differ, dependent upon the location, it is important that everyone recognises them and complies fully with their requirements

There is a legal duty for everyone to take reasonable care for health and safety to themselves and others (this means everyone, staff, public other contractors) as well as not to interfere with or misuse any equipment provide for Health & Safety. In other words, don’t put yourselves or others in danger and use health and safety equipment the way it is designed to be used.

It is important that someone knows where you are, this is so that in an emergency it can be verified very quickly that you are safe, or that you are indeed in imminent danger. To this end, you must comply with the signing in and out procedures laid down at whatever location you may be. When you are in someone else’s premises or on site you must comply with their procedures, make sure you know what they are!

There will be procedures laid down for actions necessary in the event of a fire, when you are on someone else’s property make sure that you have read their procedures and act on them accordingly.

The company will have carried out risk assessments to identify, where possible, any risks that may cause harm, it is important that where applicable these risk assessments are complied with fully. It is a duty of all employees to look after any equipment, tools or furniture in their care, to inspect all equipment for damage and report, without delay, any faults identified. The risk assessments carried out will not be exhaustive, it is therefore a requirement that anyone who identifies a new risk, reports the same back to the company for inclusion within the existing risk assessments.

It is important for everyone to report all accidents, incidents or near misses, no matter how minor, to the appropriate persons. In the event of a serious injury or dangerous occurrence, the company will then decide whether it is necessary to advise the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or not.

It is everyone’s responsibility to identify new risks or hazards. If you come across a health and safety issue that has not been addressed, then you must notify the company as soon as possible, where appropriate assessments should be carried out, and any necessary procedures or actions put into place.

Remember that everyone is responsible for the health and safety of not only yourself but others!

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Business Risk

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Business risk comes in five basic parts; however, they are very rarely independent of each other with an event creating risk in more than one category. The point is to identify what the risk is to your business then follow the risk management process, of firstly eliminating the risk, then reducing the effects of the risk and finally protecting yourself against any residual risk.

Below are listed the five elements, which should help to identify those risks that may apply to your business, from there you should be able to Eliminate, Reduce or Protect against that risk. It may help to talk to peers or other business owners, that may have already come across these risks and whose advice may save you time and may also be a source of future work or co-operation.

  1. Strategic Risk

It’s the risk that your company’s strategy becomes less effective and your company struggles to reach its goals as a result. It could be due to technological changes, a powerful new competitor entering the market, shifts in customer demand, spikes in the costs of raw materials, or any number of other large-scale changes.

Failure to adapt to a strategic risk can lead to bankruptcy, facing a strategic risk doesn’t have to be disastrous, however, if you are able to adapt to the new conditions and change your business model, the company can survive the strategic risk.

  1. Compliance Risk

Are you complying with all the necessary laws and regulations that apply to your business?

Of course you are (I hope!). But laws change all the time, and there’s always a risk that you’ll face additional regulations in the future. As your own business expands, you might find yourself needing to comply with new rules that didn’t apply to you before.

Finally, even if your business remains unchanged, you could get hit with new rules at any time. Perhaps a new data protection rule requires you to beef up your website’s security, for example, or employee safety regulations mean you need to invest in new, safer equipment in your factory, or perhaps you’ve unwittingly been breaking a rule, and have to pay a fine. All of these things involve costs, and present a compliance risk to your business.

  1. Operational Risk

Operational risk refers to an unexpected failure in your company’s day-to-day operations. It could be a technical failure, like a server outage, or it could be caused by your people or processes.

In some cases, operational risk has more than one cause. For example, consider the risk that one of your employees writes the wrong amount on a check, paying out £100,000 instead of £10,000 from your account.

That’s a “people” failure, but also a “process” failure. It could have been prevented by having a more secure payment process, for example having a second member of staff authorize every major payment, or using an electronic system that would flag unusual amounts for review.

In some cases, operational risk can also stem from events outside your control, such as a natural disaster, or a power cut, or a problem with your website host.  Anything that interrupts your company’s core operations comes under the category of operational risk.

While the events themselves can seem quite small compared with the large strategic risks we talked about earlier, operational risks can still have a big impact on your company. Not only is there the cost of fixing the problem, but operational issues can also prevent customer orders from being delivered or make it impossible to contact you, resulting in a loss of revenue and damage to your reputation.

  1. Financial Risk

Most categories of risk have a financial impact, in terms of extra costs or lost revenue, but the category of financial risk refers specifically to the money flowing in and out of your business, and the possibility of a sudden financial loss.

For example, let’s say that a large proportion of your revenue comes from a single large client, and you extend 60 days’ credit to that client, in that case, you have a significant financial risk. If that customer is unable to pay, or delays payment for whatever reason, then your business is in big trouble.

Having a lot of debt also increases your financial risk, particularly if a lot of it is short-term debt that’s due in the near future and what if interest rates suddenly go up, and instead of paying 8% on the loan, you’re now paying 15%? That’s a big extra cost for your business, and so it’s counted as a financial risk.

Financial risk is increased when you do business internationally, exchange rates are always fluctuating, meaning that the amount the company receives in GBP will change. The company could make more sales next month, for example, but receive less money. That’s a big financial risk to take into account.

  1. Reputational Risk

There are many different kinds of business, but they all have one thing in common: no matter which industry you’re in, your reputation is everything.

If your reputation is damaged, you’ll see an immediate loss of revenue, as customers become wary of doing business with you, but there are other effects as well. Your employees may get demoralised and even decide to leave. You may find it hard to hire good replacements, as potential candidates have heard about your bad reputation and don’t want to join your firm. Suppliers may start to offer you less favourable terms. Advertisers, sponsors or other partners may decide that they no longer want to be associated with you.

Reputational risk can take the form of a major lawsuit, an embarrassing product recall, negative publicity about you or your staff, or high-profile criticism of your products or services and these days, it doesn’t even take a major event to cause reputational damage; it could be a slow death by a thousand negative tweets and online product reviews.

Conclusion

In conclusion it’s important to identify the risk, however it manifests itself, at which point you need to adapt your process or systems to enhance your risk protection, by adapting or diversifying you should be able to keep major risk at arm’s length, but don’t be complacent, you must keep your eyes open at all times for anything that may cause harm to your business and be ready to react as soon as possible, not all risks exist at this moment in time, they may appear tomorrow.

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Accidents & Ill Health; It pays to know the facts

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Each year employee accidents and ill-health cost British employers an estimated £3.9 billion to £7.8 billion, of which £910 million to £3,710 million comes from accidental damage to property and equipment.

It’s often assumed that insurance will cover any financial losses. But policies generally fall short when it comes to costs involved in the general day to day running of a business. The shortfall can be startling:
• Uninsured losses are ten times the cost of insurance premiums paid. (Source: HSE)
• Uninsured losses from accidents in smaller firms add up to £315 per employee, per year. (Source: Norwich Union Risk Services)

Other cost implications that are often overlooked include:
• Dealing with the incident – Immediate action means downtime for the injured person and anyone assisting. Time spent administering first aid treatment, a hospital referral or home rest, all result in downtime. Making the area safe and making machinery serviceable are more costs for which the business is accountable.
• Investigation of the incident – Time spent reporting the incident, holding meetings to discuss it and investigating it internally are the first step. Then time spent with an HSE, or Local Authority inspector and external consultants’ fees to assist with the investigation can rapidly accumulate into hidden costs.
• Getting back to business – Rescheduling work, recovering production, repairing damage and cleaning the site are inconveniences which slow production and reduce efficiency. Hiring replacement tools, people and equipment might also be required.
• Business costs – Absentee costs are deceptive. Besides the salary of the injured worker, a combination of replacement staff salaries, lost time, reduced productivity and quality add to escalating costs. Training new or temporary staff, overtime and contract.
• Increased insurance costs – higher premiums following an incident, cost associated with conditions being applied in order to gain cover.

It pays to fulfill your legal obligations with regard to Health & Safety, this way you reduce the chances of having a claim refused and all the additional costs listed above, which will probably include the cost of fulfilling those obligations in the first place. So why pay twice?

For assistance contact us at www.anchorhands.co.uk

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Assessment

Good health and safety at work is important not only in human terms, to help reduce workers’ pain and suffering. It is also a way of ensuring that enterprises are successful and sustainable, and that economies thrive in the long term.
For most enterprises, simple cost benefit analysis will not be necessary or appropriate in this area. Businesses have moral Occupational Health & Safety obligations, as well as legal and financial ones. It is impossible to quantify costs such as suffering in monetary terms.
Nevertheless, there are quantifiable costs and benefits involved in OSH, which businesses should be aware of.

Getting Health & Safety Right!
For enterprises, good Health & Safety helps to:
• enhance ‘brand image’ and ‘brand value’ as a socially responsible business (which may affect investors’ decisions)
• reduce absences and increase the productivity of workers
• increase motivation and the commitment of employees to the business
• reduce business costs, such as insurance premiums, and business disruption
• enable enterprises to meet and exceed customer expectations.

Getting Health & Safety Wrong!

If businesses get Health & Safety wrong, the costs of accidents and ill-health can be substantial.
For the individual, there are the costs of care, loss of earnings etc.
For businesses, disruption, claims for damages, loss of goodwill and loss of confidence in management can sometimes lead to total collapse. For small companies particularly, occupational accidents can have a major financial impact.

So Why Invest in Health & Safety?

Research shows that investing in Health & Safety leads to better company performance.
A good working environment is good business.

All workers have a right to work in places where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled.

Health and safety is about stopping them getting hurt at work or ill through work.

What employers must do for employees

Decide what could harm them in their job and the precautions to stop it. This is part of risk assessment.

In a way they can understand, explain how risks will be controlled and tell them who is responsible for this.

Consult and work with them and their health and safety representatives in protecting everyone from harm in the workplace.

Free of charge, give them the health and safety training they need to do their job.

Free of charge, provide them with any equipment and protective clothing they need, and ensure it is properly looked after.

Provide toilets, washing facilities and drinking water.

Provide adequate first-aid facilities.

Report injuries, diseases and dangerous incidents at work to the HSE

Have insurance that covers them in case they get hurt at work or ill through work.

Display a hard copy or electronic copy of the current insurance certificate where they can easily read it.

Work with any other employers or contractors sharing the workplace or providing employees (such as agency workers), so that everyone’s health and safety is protected.

What employees must do

Follow the training they have received when using any work items the employer has given them.

Take reasonable care of their own and other people’s health and safety.

Co-operate with their employer on health and safety.

Tell someone (their employer, supervisor, or health and safety representative) if they think the work or inadequate precautions are putting anyone’s health and safety at serious risk.
If you would like to discuss how to improve the health and safety of your business then please feel free to contact us via our website www.anchorhands.co.uk

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