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Your questions answered - May 2022

10 May 2022

Each issue, British Safety Council will be using this page to answer YOUR questions. Please send any problems, issues or general enquiries about health, safety and wellbeing to policy@britsafe.org and their experts will respond in future issues.

Q: Now that free Covid tests have stopped being available universally, and all restrictions have been lifted the UK, what approach should I adopt as an employer?

While the pandemic is not over yet, the risks to most people are now less serious, thanks in part to vaccines and new treatments and in part to changes in the virus itself. British Safety Council’s advice to employers is to continue to take care and treat Covid as they would any other infectious illness. That means giving staff sufficient time off when they report having symptoms to allow them to recover and help reduce infections in the workplace.

We advise that businesses continue to assess the risks to their own operations, taking into account their own workforce and their needs, and ensure appropriate measures remain in place to manage and control infections. Consulting staff and ensuring they can participate in the process is vital to achieving a culture where everyone can stay safe, healthy and well.

Q: My wife is concerned about the asbestos that’s still in the school building she works in. What should she do?

If asbestos exists in the school, there must be a register. This register will have been produced after a full survey of the site has been undertaken. Within the register the location and condition of the asbestos will be identified. The initial assessment will recommend what should be done. It could have been removed, encased or simply a sign put up identifying as asbestos containing materials. It may recommend that it would be safer not to disturb or remove the asbestos, but have it reviewed or inspected regularly (usually annually). 

If the area she is concerned about is damaged, frayed or exposed she should immediately report this. It may be necessary to carry out air and surface testing to identify whether asbestos fibres are being released. If confirmed and people have been working close by, it will be necessary to carry out a deep clean and possibly provide lung function testing to employees.

Q. I’ve started a new job in a new sector working from home and I’m now due to start moving to a hybrid working model and feeling anxious about this, including experiencing imposter syndrome, i.e. not appearing to do enough etc. Do you have any tips?

Absolutely. Imposter syndrome is about confidence and self-esteem. So perhaps start by recognising you were offered the job in the first place, and as such others already in your workplace clearly think you’re good enough! So, look at the facts and evidence that challenge your beliefs, rather than creating anxious beliefs that reinforce the way you see yourself.

Be realistic. If we expect too much of ourselves, above what is realistically achievable, then we will find the gap between the two is filled with disappointment, frustration, guilt, shame etc. Meeting people in a new job, in a new sector, for the first time, is naturally going to be stressful to some degree, so accept some level of discomfort. No one can expect you to know everything, least of all yourself, so again, be realistic about what you can do. 

Don’t underestimate how important body language and posture is to how you’re feeling. When we are under stress, we will find we hold ourselves in a certain way – for example, become ‘hunched’, ‘closed’ body language (folded arms, crossed legs, making fists with our hands etc.) These are all in response to feeling vulnerable. Our brain is sending signals in response to a perceived threat, and consequently we may make ourselves smaller and create barriers to protect ourselves (like a hedgehog curling into a ball). However, we can reverse this by consciously sending signals back to our brain, through our body that tell it, “It’s ok, I’m safe”. We do this by standing tall, head up, meeting people’s gaze, having ‘open’ body language (unfold the arms, open up your hands etc.), and your brain then gets the message there must be no threat and turns off (or at least dilutes) the stress response. 

Q. Desks are not bought for staff working from home by our employer. Aren’t they responsible to ensure that using an ironing board, kitchen counter, lap, and dining room tables should be addressed?

In short yes, however lots of people have no space to put a desk in their homes. Where employees clearly do not have a conducive environment in which to work, make sure you have asked them about their home working set-up and, if it’s not appropriate, support them by making sure they have somewhere they can use in the workplace.

Don’t forget to submit YOUR questions to policy@britsafe.org