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Winter’s coming: are you prepared?

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Winter’s coming: are you prepared?

This autumn there have already been incidents of severe flooding, hurricanes and even snow. Although, it is tempting to hope that such extreme weather is just a one-off, our changing climate means that we are likely to experience more severe weather, not less.

The Climate Change Committee has warned that “future UK winter weather may be dominated more often by weather patterns associated with wetter, wilder and windier winter weather”. And although bitingly cold winters are not a key part of the predictions, variability is, meaning that businesses would be wise to properly prepare for winter regardless of how cold, or snowy, it might be. The cold, icy conditions experienced during the winter of 2018/19 — which led to temperatures plummeting to -14°C in the Cairngorms in Scotland and bringing some cities to a halt — were estimated to have cost the UK economy £1 million for every day of disruption.

Preparing for winter

To prepare for inclement weather, a winter plan should be put together with an associated risk assessment. This should be carried out well in advance, and revisited and revised throughout the cold period. The winter plan will be part of the suite of contingency plans already in place that outline what could happen in worst-case scenarios, and how these risks are mitigated and managed. For example, how would the business fare if power supplies went down?

Due to the impact of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown, last year’s winter plan was likely to have been radically different to those preceding it. Some aspects may be still relevant; others may need adapting based on the current and anticipated measures for Winter 2021/22. As part of any planning process, include a review of how the plan fared last year, as well as the year before, so that new approaches can be adopted where processes were less than ideal.

Some areas that could be addressed as part of winter planning are outlined below.

Preventive maintenance

Bad weather and high winds can expose any building flaws, especially in areas such as roofs or windows. Before winter comes, carry out a condition survey to identify any potential problems, and prioritise them for repair.

Similarly, regularly inspect heating systems and any other plant required for emergencies, such as back-up generators. Proactive maintenance and regular inspections will help reduce the chance of failure when these bits of kit are most needed. Consider setting additional “winter” KPIs to help track and monitor those tasks that need to be given higher priority during this time.

Proper ventilation will also be crucial this winter to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. Options such as opening windows may become less appealing as it turns colder, and so mechanical ventilation will be relied upon. Again, preventive maintenance will help ensure that all systems are functioning well.

Slips and trips

Snow and ice are two obvious winter problems that can be a hindrance to any business. Make sure that supplies of grit are fully stocked, and that weather warnings are regularly checked so that the grit is used when needed. Staff employed to spread grit need proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as a map of where to grit, and priority areas. Keep records of where and when gritting takes place and fully train staff. Also ensure that any gritting is carried out in a Covid secure manner, for example, by providing individual PPE.

Do not forget inside the building too — staff bringing snow and ice in on their shoes can create slippery surfaces, so consider adding extra mats at the front doors to help keep the building clean and to absorb any extra wetness.

Remember that slips and trips are not just isolated to times when snow falls. Darker mornings and evenings can cause more accidents, as can autumnal leaf fall. As part of maintenance checks, ensure external lighting is adequate and that entrances and pathways are kept clear of leaf litter and debris.

Staff working outdoors

As part of the maintenance team there might be people who are regularly working outdoors. Although minimum working temperatures do not apply for these workers, there is, however, still a duty of care to ensure that people are not working in unsafe conditions. This could mean that managers need to look at rotas to avoid staff working outside in the cold for long periods of time, as well as making sure there are adequate facilities for people to warm up and take a break. The availability of facilities is especially critical if breaks need to be staggered due to Covid-19, or if the usual facilities have changed. Additional PPE to account for the weather can also be appropriate — for example, having good waterproofs.

Managing sickness

Along with bad weather comes the dreaded winter flu. This year, seasonal flu may also coincide with another wave of Covid-19 infections meaning that managing sickness will be more important than ever. Health and Safety representative and managers can play an important, if not visible, role in reducing the impact of staff illness spreading. For example, by stocking up on soap and alcohol gels and working to promote “hands, face, space” messaging and other good behaviours to reduce the spread infections.

Winter doesn’t always mean catching a cold. For some, it can also bring about the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as a propensity for less exercise and a change in diet. The impact that Covid-19 has had on mental health is well documented, and the onset of winter can make any pre-existing condition worse. Keep this in mind; perhaps renew or re-launch any wellness campaigns or promote any mental health support that is offered by the business.

In short, plan ahead. Make sure that a winter plan is in place, any maintenance is carried out and that the business is ready should the worst happen. If bad weather does strike, then remember to review how it went afterwards and implement any changes that might be necessary.

Contact us for further information or advice.

 

Can staff refuse testing and vaccines?

How employers can deal with a situation where staff refuse to take the Covid-19 vaccine and/or partake in in-house testing.

Can staff refuse testing and vaccines?

Can staff refuse testing and vaccines?

Although a number of Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the UK, the virus remains a present threat, with many employers asking how they can help to reduce the virus’ spread. Workplace Covid-19 testing and vaccine take-up come to mind; but how can employers deal with staff refusals and what might make staff refuse in the first place?

In-house testing

Employers whose staff have returned to work as lockdown rules are eased in the UK may have already begun mass testing their employees for Covid-19, or are thinking about doing so. Mass testing in the workplace can enable employers to spot asymptomatic positive cases of the virus and reduce the possibility of it spreading to other members of staff.

Employers in the position to offer in-house testing may have started encouraging their employees to take the opportunity to have regular testing when it is offered to them. The word “encourage” is emphasised here as it is unlikely that there will be a clause in employee contracts allowing employers to require them to be tested. To enforce it is therefore likely to be an unlawful change to contract terms and conditions.

Having said that, if enforcing in-house testing on staff is not advisable, this means that staff can refuse to be tested if they do not want to be. Perhaps they would prefer to test themselves at home? Some members of staff may find the testing process, of taking throat and mouth swabs, to be very uncomfortable, and others may feel it unnecessary if they are not experiencing any symptoms. In this case employers should attempt to reason with the employees and put the point across to them that the implementation of in-house testing is a crucial one to prevent asymptomatic cases from going undetected, resulting in the continued spread of the virus.

By having in-house testing on offer, employers would be doing their part to ensure that they are safeguarding their employees’ health and safety. However, this would be made difficult if employees are unreasonably refusing to be tested when offered. It may therefore be necessary to keep staff working from home for longer, or implement social distancing in the workplace so that contact is limited between staff members.

Disciplinary action may be necessary, however, as any employee who refuses to be tested runs the risk of unknowingly putting their colleagues’ health and safety at risk. This should be a last resort.

Vaccines

When it comes to vaccines, arguably, the biggest question that many employers will have is whether they can legally oblige their employees to take the vaccine before returning to work. As with testing, the Government has not chosen to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory, except for the care sector.

The Government confirmed on 17 June 2021 that the vaccine would be compulsory for care home staff and it is estimated that 10,000 care homes will be affected. The law was in place from 1 October 2021 and staff have until 11 November 2021 to get vaccinated, unless they have provided a temporary self-certification exemption form available from the Government. Formal confirmation, via the NHS Covid Pass or presentation of a MATB1 form (for pregnant staff), must be provided by 24 December 2021. From that date, the self-certificated form can no longer be used. Affected staff were given a 16-week grace period to get the vaccine or face being redeployed or lose their job. This only applies to England. Scotland and Wales have confirmed they will not be mandating the Covid-19 vaccine for care home staff.

The Government is also considering making both the Covid vaccine and the flu vaccine mandatory for deployment in other healthcare sectors in England.

For the majority of employers, the most appropriate course of action will be to, again, encourage staff to take the vaccine.

If employees refuse to take the vaccine because they are not contractually obliged to do so, employers should think about sharing information with staff about the vaccine from official sources. This reduces the likelihood of them refusing to take the vaccine because of fears stemming from the spread of false information.

As the vaccine may be seen as much more medically invasive when compared to testing, refusal can result for a number of reasons which should not be disregarded, eg allergies, pregnancy, etc. Employers are therefore not advised to take disciplinary action against employees. Doing this may mean employers risk facing claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal (including constructive unfair dismissal). To deal with this, it may be necessary to, in addition to sending out information from reliable sources, keep staff working from home for longer or test staff at work to reduce the chances of the virus spreading within the workplace.

How a policy might help

To facilitate testing and vaccine roll-out, employers can implement a Covid-19 testing and vaccine policy which employees should have easy access to. The policy should set out why testing at work and the take-up of the vaccine are encouraged, who will manage the testing process (third party/trained staff), where the testing will take place and how, as well as details on how test results will be processed.

What does all this mean?

In-house/rapid testing and the Covid-19 vaccine are big topics which both need to be handled with the utmost care. Although the actions employers take will be similar in both cases, it is important to look at them separately to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately and that, most importantly, they are led by encouragement rather than enforcement.

Rapid and in-house testing as well as the vaccines are not required to be taken-up by law and it is ultimately up to employers to encourage it. That said, unless employers can clearly justify why mandating mass testing and requiring staff to be vaccinated is necessary, it should remain optional.

Enforcing testing in some cases and vaccinations, and disciplining employees who refuse to partake, could lead to costly constructive dismissal or even discrimination claims, unless such an action is justifiable. Discrimination may arise where employees have valid reasons for their refusal which are connected to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Contact us for further information.

Toolbox Talk: Slips, Trips and Falls

Toolbox Talk: Slips, Trips and Falls

Toolbox Talk: Slips, Trips and Falls

Why have this talk? Every year many accidents resulting in injuries occur through slips, trips, and falls. Most of these slips, trips and falls that occur are easily preventable with a little consideration and care.

What will this talk cover? The causes and prevention of slips, trips, and falls.

What causes slips, trips and falls?

  • The most common reason for injuries from falls is poor housekeeping, ie mess. Items lying about will trip someone up if not put away in a safe place.
  • Where oils and grease are used, spills will create a slip hazard if not immediately cleaned up.
  • General debris from building works can quickly accumulate and form a tripping hazard.
  • Trailing cables are another frequent cause of tripping.
  • Mud left on equipment surfaces or ladder rungs will represent a slipping hazard for the next person.
  • Reduced levels of natural light, for example during winter afternoons, can easily increase the tripping hazards if adequate access lighting is not provided. Tools, equipment, and materials that are visible in full daylight will be harder to spot in reduced lighting.

How to prevent slips, trips and falls

  • Clear up waste materials as you create them. Lightweight waste should be bagged or bundled, and all sharp objects removed, eg nails from waste timber.
  • Do not leave tools, equipment or unused materials lying about on the floor.
  • If you are using substances which could spill, ensure that you have a means of effectively clearing up any spillage.
  • As far as possible, cables for work equipment should be secured above head height. If cables must be routed at floor level, try to avoid crossing pedestrian walkways and use fluorescent or warning tape to highlight potential trip hazards at floor level.
  • If the workplace is muddy, scrape off mud from footwear before using access equipment or walking anywhere that may be a danger to others.
  • Be aware of the increased risks of tripping as the level natural light fades; use additional lighting and ensure that all tools, equipment, and materials are stored in a safe location.

Questions for employees

  • What can you do in your job to reduce slip, trip, or fall hazards?
  • How can you manage the risk from trip hazards at floor level?
  • What is the correct procedure for clearing up a spilt liquid?
  • How can you improve workplace lighting as the sun sets?

Do you have any questions for me?

If you require further advice, please contact us.

 

Importance of Updated Safety in the Workplace

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Importance of Updated Safety in the Workplace

Safety in the workplace is essential. Part of safety protocol entails inspecting and replacing any damaged equipment. Personal protective equipment (PPE) applies to any industry. It’s helpful to know what PPE your team should wear as well as the stationary equipment available to keep everyone safe.

Why Is it Important to Inspect for Damage and Replace Equipment?

There are several factors to consider when inspecting damaged equipment and replacing it. Dangerous and risky job sites require that personal protective equipment, like helmets, must always be worn to avoid fatal accidents such as falling objects. All PPE must be working correctly and replaced regularly.

Here is a guideline for inspecting and replacing PPE to keep your workplace safe.

Inspect and Replace PPE in a Timely Manner.

Identify the correct time to replace PPE. Replacing equipment too early is a waste of resources to pay for new equipment. However, waiting too long to replace PPE is risky because, if equipment fails, accidents and injuries happen.

Develop Standards and Protocols for Inspecting PPE.

Establish inspection timelines, standards and protocols. For example, everyone could be responsible for their personal protective equipment, or one or two people could be assigned responsibility for inspecting the equipment. If and when there is an issue with the equipment, it should immediately be taken out of circulation and replaced. Therefore, you should always have extra PPE on hand.

When creating inspection protocols, you need to be aware of what to look for when inspecting PPE. Some examples of what to inspect include:

  • Discoloration or material disintegration.
  • Rips, tears, holes, or visible damage.
  • Age of gear and manufacturer’s expiration date.
  • Missing components such as filters, and other resources.
  • Failing straps, locks, and security devices.

Use a PPE Grading System.

Create a PPE grading system. A grading system should be common to everyone and helps your employees instantly know when equipment should be replaced. PPE may need to be replaced while it’s getting fixed or may need to be thrown out altogether. It all depends on the type of job.

Use Occupational Safety and Health Administration Guidelines.

Refer to The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Government guidelines. Be sure that your team knows exactly what the guidelines are and be sure they are met at all times. These guidelines can be included in your inspection and replacement requirements.

COVID and PPE.

When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear may not be beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.

The UK Government has published COVID-19 Secure working safely guidance for workplaces that provides a hierarchy of risk control measures that employers and the self-employed are expected to follow when reviewing their risk assessments for COVID-19 hazards.

When an Incident Occurs, Take Action Immediately.

Take action after an incident. Any affected PPE should always be replaced. Depending on the incident, it may be possible to save the gear after being inspected. Otherwise, it should be replaced.

Don’t Forget About Stationary Equipment.

Be aware of stationary equipment like machinery and the need to stand behind a protective shield. This equipment also requires you to inspect, repair, and/or replace the stationary equipment as well.

Be Consistent.

Though replacing and inspecting equipment may seem like a hassle, it is better to be safe than sorry. Make sure your workers are aware of necessary PPE and inspect their gear at the beginning of a shift or before starting a major project. You do not want to risk an accident.

What PPE Wear Is Available?

PPE wear includes head protection, eye protection, hearing protection, good respiratory protection, correct gloves, footwear, and correct work clothing.

Here are examples of the different types of PPE wear available.

Head Protection.

Invest in a good helmet. Today, there are many customised features to choose from such as adjustable interior harnesses and sweatbands. Ensure PPE is compatible, for example, wearing a safety hat in conjunction with ear defenders.

Eye Protection.

Work-related eye injuries unfortunately happen to hundreds of people daily worldwide. Safety glasses can prevent these injuries. Welding goggles and shields can protect you from bright light or infrared radiation.

Hearing Protection.

In a high sound level environment, earplugs would be comfortable. However, ear defenders may be a better choice to have on the shop floor or construction site because you can take them on and off easily and they’re more hygienic.

Respiratory Protection.

Masks are necessary when coming in contact with hazardous materials like vapour, smoke, or powder. Dust masks protect you against fine dust and other dangerous particles. Full-face masks protect you against toxic materials. These masks will protect your nose and mouth from pollution.

Hand Protection.

There are different types of gloves depending on your occupation.

  • Protection against vibrations.
  • Protection against cuts and sharp materials.
  • Protection from cold or heat.
  • Protection against bacteriological risks.
  • Protection against splashes from diluted chemicals.

Protective Footwear.

Different types of protective footwear serve different purposes

  • Safety shoes and boots to protect you against heavy weights.
  • Anti-skid soles when working in damp environments.
  • Shoe claws for slippery surfaces like snow and ice.

Correct Work Clothing.

Specific types of work clothing can protect against accidents in a crowded workshop. High-visibility vests or jackets can keep you visible in dark or crowded conditions. Pants made with strong fabric will protect your skin and resist wear and tear.

Ensure the team are trained and competent to carry out their tasks.

Safety in every workplace is a must to provide a safe work environment, and keep you and your team safe.

Contact us for further information.

Guest Blog with WHSS and Scarlet Baker

Post-college, Scarlet has nurtured successful relationships with agencies and clients as a Content Marketer and has developed a refined instinct for bringing entertaining and effective brand stories to the public. Presently, she has the honour of leading an amazing team of incredibly talented Content Creators in her role as Director of Content Development at SEO Design Chicago. We work together to craft unique, personalised content for a diverse pool of clients across multiple industries. 

 

Toolbox Talk: Manual Handling

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Toolbox Talk: Manual Handling

Why have this talk? Manual handling causes more than one third of all workplace injuries and features in almost everyone’s job in almost every sector.

What will this talk cover? The considerations and good techniques used to avoid injury when manual handling.

What to think about when faced with manual handling
  • Where possible, use mechanical handling methods instead, eg forklifts or pallet trucks.
  • Where possible, establish the weight of the load before lifting.
  • Only tackle jobs you can handle. Consider if you should ask for assistance.
  • Carry out a trial lift by rocking the load from side to side, and then try lifting it a small amount to get a “feel” for it.
  • If moving the load somewhere, make sure you have a clear path with good lighting.
  • Wear appropriate PPE such as gloves to protect against cuts and puncture wounds, and appropriate footwear to protect against falling loads.
Good handling technique
  • Stand reasonably close to the load, keeping feet hip-width apart, one foot slightly forward pointing in the direction you intend to travel.
  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight.
  • Get a secure grip on the load.
  • Breathe in before lifting as this helps to support the spine.
  • Use a good lifting technique, keep your back straight and lift using your legs.
  • Keep the load close to your body.
  • Do not carry a load that obscures your vision.
  • Lift slowly and smoothly.
  • Avoid jerky movements.
  • Avoid twisting your body when lifting or carrying a load.
  • When lifting to a height from the floor, do it in two stages.
  • When two or more people lift, one person must take control to co-ordinate the lift.
Questions for employees
  • What should be your first consideration before carrying out any manual handling?
  • What checks should you carry out before lifting?
  • Is PPE necessary for the tasks you do and why?
  • How would you lift an object safely?
  • What should happen if there are two or people involved in a lift?

Do you have any questions for me?

Contact us for further information.