By Callum Coombes, CEO, Safepoint
There’s no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times and the world of work has been shaken up this year more than ever before. The UK government is once again advising those who can to work from home. But there are many industries – manufacturing, retail, transport – where this is just not possible. Therefore businesses need to focus on protecting their staff now more than ever.
Employers are legally – and morally – responsible for ensuring their employees stay safe – in terms of health and safety, and wellbeing. Whilst employers are very aware of the risks presented with the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s actually the hidden dangers that are potentially posing the biggest threat to employees when it comes to their safety.
Dangers in the workplace
The most common cause of non-fatal injuries in the workplace were from ‘slips, trips or falls on the same level’, according to the 2018/19 RIDDOR report. In fact more than half of all non-fatal injuries for this period were due to this or accidents caused by ‘handling, lifting or carrying’. Accidents which could potentially be prevented through better health and safety guidelines and more thorough risk assessments.
According to the HSE, 581,000 workers sustained non-fatal injuries during 2018/19, with 147 workplace deaths recorded for this period. Whilst trends show that both of these numbers are in decline, with the latest HSE report for 2019/20 recording 111 fatalities – the lowest number of workplace deaths on HSE’s records – it is clear that still more can be done.
For those who work off-site, or with heavy machinery or moving vehicles, it’s clear that businesses need to be aware of the dangers and how to prevent them to ensure staff stay protected. Industries such as construction; agriculture, forestry and fishing; and manufacturing have been identified by the HSE as the most dangerous sectors to work in – with falling from a height the most common cause of workplace deaths.
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), an estimated 1.3% of working adults have been the victim of one or more violent incidents at work. The CSEW reported 739,000 incidents of violence at work during 2018/19, comprising 356,000 assaults and 383,000 threats. Unlike workplace injuries and fatalities, these figures are not declining, indicating better safety measures need to be in place.
Why lone workers are most at risk
There are approximately six million lone workers in the UK – people who work on their own or without any direct supervision – spanning a wide range of industries and sectors, from estate agents to care workers to farmers. It’s therefore vital that HR departments work with employees to ensure they are given, and follow, rules and procedures in their place of work. Equally employees have a responsibility to follow them.
The current increase in remote working means there are more ‘lone workers’ – people working from home – than ever before. However, the risks that workers face in their own homes, where they are familiar and comfortable with their surroundings, may seem low compared to those who work with the public or operate machinery. But they also have an increased risk in terms of they are far less visible to their colleagues.
The health and social care industries employ a high number of lone workers, providing vital care for those at their most vulnerable. Yet it is often the workers themselves who are the most vulnerable with the Labour Force Survey for 2018/19 reporting 74,000 non-fatal work-related injuries for workers in the health and social care sector – attributing to some of the highest rates of workplace violence.
Agriculture is another industry where lone workers are susceptible to injury, working with heavy machinery and unpredictable livestock. The rate of fatal injury in agriculture is 18 times higher than in any other industry, with people over the age of 65 years particularly at risk, according to the HSE.
Top tips to keeping employees safe
HR departments can improve their health and safety culture by demonstrating to their employees that they care about their safety.
- When necessary conduct a dynamic risk assessment
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for all employers and self-employed people.
A dynamic risk assessment is conducted in real-time – encouraging workers to be aware of the changing nature of risks and identify potential hazards when they arise. This allows employees to judge if a task needs to be approached differently, or avoided all together, which can mean the difference between working safely or risking injury.
- Ensure employees are aware of health and safety rules specific to the business
It’s very easy for businesses to assume that their employees are aware of guidelines when it comes to health and safety, but it needs to be communicated to every member of the team – on a regular basis.
For example, there’s no point having a safe-word to use on the phone for emergencies if someone on the team is not aware that this procedure is in place.
- Maintain strong channels of communication with every colleague
By maintaining strong channels of communication – phone, email or via a staff safety app – employers can check that employees are safe wherever they are through regular check-ins, or notifications regarding a change of location.
It is the responsibility of HR departments to educate and encourage employers to protect their staff and ensure that the correct health and safety procedures are in place. By promoting a healthy work culture, values and safe workplace practices, HR professionals play a key role in keeping staff safe and allowing them to fulfill their day-to-day role confidently.