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By Chris Harvey, Organisational Development Manager, & Martin Shields, Head of Health, Safety & Environment, ODS.
Health & Safety compliance is rarely thought of as being a key part of business innovation. However, the approach masterminded by ODS, a Local Authority Trading Company (LATCO) which provides frontline services, shows how when folded into a bigger piece of work around cohesion it can promote new ideas for how we work and build confidence and resilience among staff. Organisational Development Manager, Chris Harvey along with Head of Health, Safety & Environment, Martin Shields, explain how this has resulted in a better customer experience, coupled with elevated staff wellbeing and skillsets.
The past six months have thrown many industries into turmoil while we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn on a global scale. Yet the public health crisis has sharpened our focus on how we can put new working arrangements in place to support the wellbeing and safety of our people.
Health & safety compliance is often portrayed in the media negatively; tedious, inconvenient procedures slowing down work and even acting as a roadblock to innovation.
What the pandemic has helped demonstrate, however, is that this is not the case at all, or at least it shouldn’t be. Out of necessity, we’ve reviewed our procedures and have created new, COVID-era ways of working which have in fact created a better customer experience and improved the skillsets of many of our workers.
A good ethos is good business
It has always been the case that a happy, healthy workforce is more productive, efficient, and less absent. However, the pandemic has made the impact on the bottom line clear, by showing that staff wellbeing, both emotional and physical, is vital to the business staying afloat.
We’ve seen the pandemic expose a huge correlation between economic survival and health. A single outbreak could have an enormous impact on our services, customers and costs, added to which employers also have a moral obligation to protect their staff, including from the emotional impact of the crisis.
At ODS, round 10% of our workforce have been shielding, and they’ve been returning in a phased manner. Many have considerable anxiety about coming back due to their own or family members’ medical conditions and these worries need to be dealt with first. Staff must be absolutely confident there are procedures in place so that they can carry out their duties safely and securely. They also need to be able to flag worries and talk concerns through with their team leaders. Companies need to be in listening mode as this is key in reducing anxieties and will help to make essential improvements to procedures.
The fact of the matter is mental health should be considered of equal importance to physical wellbeing. It’s crucial that companies train mental health first-aiders among their staff, provide peer support and have occupational health programmes where needed.
The challenges posed by COVID-19
With new socially distanced working practices, whether you’re working from home, in the community or on a construction site, frequent two-way communication has become increasingly important. It needs to be frequent, honest and empathetic. Employers must create a safe space where people can speak freely, without any worry about negative repercussions.
While the guidance that has come from central government and trade bodies has heavily focused on resource management as well as setting universal rules for public safety management, on an organisational level we must drill down to a more granular level. This has to go all the way through to an individual’s unique combination of day-to-day activities, working environment and their health situation.
As well as being mindful of their people, companies need to ensure they’re not potentially exposing their customers and the public unnecessarily. The COVID era should lead employers to look afresh at how they deliver their services and see what needs adjusting. At ODS, for example, we sometimes would have two or three different trades visiting a property to fix something. We realised that this was multiplying any potential exposure risk, so we’ve re-trained our maintenance crews to be multi-disciplinary. This approach has been popular with clients, residents and our teams.
We also ensure our colleagues sanitise surfaces they touch as they enter/exit properties and ask tenants/occupiers to stay out of the rooms being worked in. These are all small, practical changes to keep everyone safe.
Changes should also be made for those office-based people who have to be ‘back’ at work, by providing, for starters, a well-ventilated, appropriately distanced, screened workplace. Not everyone has a suitable work space in their home and other office-based colleagues want to be close to the operational teams. This will allow people to safely work where they’ll be most effective.
Bespoke plans, people-centred approach
An organisation-wide template for creating bespoke guidance to each team and individual is also important. It ensures communication and operation remains effective at all levels. At ODS, we achieved this with our Road to Recovery Operational Framework, launched two days after lockdown was announced.
This framework empowers line managers to supervise and communicate with their teams on an individualised basis. This is necessary as it’s the line managers who have an intimate understanding of what a worker’s day looks like and their circumstances. There’s a standardised approach with weekly reviews and checklists so that issues can be swiftly addressed.
It also ensures line managers understand that while it’s possible for workers to return from shielding, there are certain limitations. Taking into account individual occupational health reports, this framework clarifies what tasks can be assigned and to whom.
Being agile to meet differing needs
It goes without saying that the circumstances for each individual can look very different. The overriding experience of a single person may have been loneliness, while a parent working from home might have felt overwhelmed with balancing work, childcare and other tasks.
Underpinning the template is therefore the need to tailor assessments. Different work streams face different challenges. It can be extremely challenging, for example, to keep a two-metre distance with the kind of work carried out by frontline operatives. Companies with frontline workers should therefore create ‘cohorts’, keeping the same team working together, staggering working times, equipping them with PPE and putting everyone in their own bubble with minimised contact with others.
A united front
People can be ambivalent about health and safety management because fear is sometimes used as a way to change behaviour. Our organisation’s culture has always focused on using empathy, as treating people as adults is much more effective. A greater focus on communication will help to keep companies united during the crisis, and will enable them to maintain morale and performance.
The challenge to keep providing our services going has been immense, yet the very necessity to build in all these safeguards has helped improve our systems. That’s why we’re now providing an even better service and an improved customer experience.
Through regular one-on-one conversations between line managers and operatives, companies will effectively give enhanced on-the-job training to their staff. Detailed discussions will help to clarify what works well, where the struggles are and what improvements can be made. This discussion-based approach provides an opportunity for teams to actively learn and will allow employers to boost morale during a difficult time.
Keeping your people safe needs to be a number one priority and it’s good business too. This gives a new perspective on how to organise services safely and while meeting customer needs. Thus enabling organisations to not only stay afloat, but thrive.
How looking after your staff can help you adapt your business
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