Why worker safety must be prioritised- and how to do this

The Government has released its plan for progressively lifting lockdown restrictions. However, many have suggested that the plans could compromise the safety of workers and are demanding that further changes be made.

Why worker safety must be prioritised- and how to do this

The Government has released its plan for progressively lifting lockdown restrictions. However, many have suggested that the plans could compromise the safety of workers and are demanding that further changes be made. It is clear worker safety must be prioritised, but many businesses are unsure are of how their staff can best be safeguarded. However, there are some clear ways that leaders can make sure their employees know that their health is being put first going forwards.

Safety in the workplace

Keeping sick workers at home is your first line of defense against the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. If your staff feel unwell, they must feel able to safely ask for sick leave without fearing a negative impact on their job. While their own health is at risk, they are also risking infecting others in the office or on their commute. You must also ensure workers are encouraged to stay at home even if they are feeling better for as long as they could be infectious.

Meanwhile, other measures will need to be considered to maintain safety in the office. Staggered arrivals for staff can help to reduce crowding on public transport, while staggered break times can minimise the use of busy communal spaces.

Meetings should be kept to a minimum, with video and conference calling tools used instead wherever possible. Desks can be spaced out, and splitting staff into different shifts for separate hours or days that they’re present in the office will allow workers to remain at safe distances from one another at all times.

Investing in more equipment and work tools may be necessary to make sure staff are not cross-contaminating, while ensuring workers are provided with adequate hygiene equipment will be vital, including PPE, hand sanitizer, tissues, disposable towels and disinfectants to clean work surfaces. 

The right not to return to work

Section 44 of the Employment Act 1996 states that an employee has the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his [or her] employer. This means workers can refuse to work if they have a reasonable belief of serious or imminent danger.

As such, business leaders must carefully assess the risk of workers being exposed to Covi-19 if and when asking employees to return to the workplace, and ensure that appropriate measures are implemented to reduce this risk as much as possible. A comprehensive risk assessment is advised before taking any steps towards reopening physical offices, and transparent communication to employees of the risks present, and the steps being taken to mitigate them, will be crucial.

The future for remote working & the law

As the law currently stands, all workers have the right to request flexible working if they have undertaken 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer. This right can only be rejected if there are statutory grounds to support this rejection. There has been some discussion in the media that this law could change, where flexible working would become the default position for all employees.

While the law is still the same, there is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered attitudes towards flexible working. If your organisation has successfully managed remote working during lockdown, it will be more difficult for businesses to reject flexible working applications, while there is likely to be an increased appetite from staff for longer-term flexibility in their workplace.

Consequently, business leaders must reconsider their flexible working policies and update them where possible to reflect the shift in mentality around such practices. Increasing the amount of flexibility available for your staff can empower them to stay at home if they need and protect their own and others’ health.

In order to make the transition to an increased use of flexible working, you should ensure you have invested in appropriate technology to ensure staff can carry out the demands of the job successfully and that productivity is not hindered.

Maintaining effective communication is key, so investment in effective video and conference calling tools is recommended. You should take advantage of web messaging platforms and file-sharing tools to allow projects and meetings to be carried out remotely, and daily processes to operate smoothly.

The importance of mental health

Any period of significant change can be difficult for people when it disrupts their routine, and enduring a public health crisis is undoubtedly a dark time for all. As such, business leaders must put in place processes to safeguard mental health and show their staff they are supported at this time. Informing your workers of the mental health services available to them, ensuring managers are well-trained in dealing with mental health problems, and updating policies to emphasise the ability of staff to take sick leave for both mental, as well as physical, health reasons, can help your workforce feel protected.

The coronavirus pandemic has, and continues to be, a highly challenging time for lives and for businesses. Employers must balance the need to ensure the survival of their organisation, with the safety of their employees- but both are ultimately dependent upon one another. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure the appropriate safety measures are put in place to keep workers safe and allow your business to function smoothly.

Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson

Share via
Copy link