The forgotten part of health and safety

The current pandemic might help focus minds on the fact that companies have duties in terms of staff health and need to follow the same processes and procedures as they would for safety/risk issues, writes Cathy Parker.

When businesses and boards think about health and safety, often the health part get conveniently ignored, unless they are in an industry where there are potential ongoing health risks due, to say, chemical exposure or continuous process risk.

The Covid-19 or coronavirus epidemic might help focus minds on the fact that companies equally have duties in terms of staff health and need to follow the same processes and procedures as they would for safety/risk issues.

In particular, apart from illness, employers have a duty of care around psychological harm, in particular from bullying, harassment and general workplace stress.

This becomes especially problematic if instances have been reported and no suitable action has been taken to address the issue.

Many businesses will have some form of EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) in place to help address these kinds of issues, for a smaller business it may be an ad-hoc pay-as-you-go system while larger businesses will have contractual arrangements in place I won’t say much specifically on Covid-19 as this is being written some time before you will see it and events will likely overtake anything I say.

Some pertinent things you might like to think about in terms of health though might include:

• What policies do you have to stop people who are sick and potentially infectious coming to work? (Around 500 people a year die from the flu in New Zealand.)

• Do you have plans in place to allow staff to work from home if they need to be in isolation but are still fit to work or you need to close your office? This could also apply to other scenarios such as an earthquake.

• What processes do you have in place in terms of monitoring staff mental health and supporting those with issues? (Around 600 people a year commit suicide in New Zealand.)

• What procedures do you have in place to support staff after a traumatic event involving work – death of a colleague, robbery, etc?

• What processes do you have to deal with bullying or harassment which can often cause ongoing mental health issues?

• Do you have policies in terms of alcohol harm for workplace related events?

Quite clearly, under the Health and Safety legislation these are all things where you need to have considered the risks and have plans in place to deal with them.

There is quite a difference in having the ability for staff to work occasionally from home to being able to fully support the whole team working from home. My own business recently went through this process when we moved people from an office environment to a distributed one and you need some different IT structures in place.

In our case that included ditching our premises-based file server to go fully into the cloud for data utilising:

• Microsoft One Drive (Part of Office 365).

• Implementing cloud applications for CRM and payroll.

• Swapping to a full VOIP phone system from our hybrid system.

We also rolled out use of Microsoft Teams which allows text chat and video calls and conferencing.

So maybe one of the positive things to come out of the Covid-19 outbreak might be a renewed focus on the H part of health and safety, which may well be a good thing.

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