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Open communication builds a safer workplace

12 May 2022

THIS YEAR’S World Day for Safety and Health at Work focused on participation and social dialogue to foster a positive safety and health culture. Jo Heselton shares the successes the Hull-based leading safety supplier achieved while managing the pandemic and the importance of maintaining those high standards in the future.

In recent years, shifts to new forms of working arrangements, such as hybrid models, have presented opportunities for workers but also posed potential risks, including a decline in mental health and wellbeing. 

At the peak of the pandemic, mental distress across the nation hit an all-time high with many workers facing grief, forced isolation, an economic slump and unfamiliar ways of working. As a result, it’s estimated that one-in-six people experienced a common mental health problem in the past week. In the UK, that’s equivalent to over 10 million people.

As the world was struck with an uneasy sense of uncertainty, the way businesses communicated was critical to manage the fears and concerns of their colleagues and it remains just as important today. Although restrictions have now eased, many businesses continue to operate with hybrid models. There are many days where employees cannot simply look over their shoulder to check on a colleague, so we need new methods to provide consistent support and an open dialogue to ensure our workplace is safe from a mental health perspective.

Mental health should always be a priority for employers and one of the best ways to address this effectively is to have a dedicated team of mental health first aiders. This ensures that your business has qualified personnel for employees to turn to so that colleagues are supported in all aspects of their lives, both at work and home, by listening and signposting them to information and further support, where needed. 

Additionally, a strong and open internal communication system is a critical part of maintaining a positive dialogue and culture. For example, setting up a wellbeing hub that is frequently updated with mindfulness tips, FAQs and employee assistance programmes, such as confidential phone-line support. It’s also a great place to share tailored advice for colleagues, with specific information relevant to their team and the potential for employees to share their own stories. You can keep employees updated via email or on a business intranet as well. Creating guides specifically for colleagues to use and share with friends and family can also help employees feel valued and informed. 

As businesses look ahead at the ‘new normal’ of hybrid working, it’s important not to neglect the social and human benefits of the workplace and it is for this reason that Arco is hosting a week-long series of events for its colleagues, focussing on health, safety and wellbeing in the build up to World Day of Safety and Health at Work.

Assistance during working hours is important but supporting individuals who are isolated should also be a priority for employees' welfare. Colleagues and volunteers from across the business can organise virtual opportunities outside of work hours to promote human connection, for example, cooking and music lessons, quizzes and even seasonal activities like a virtual pantomime! Activities like these provide welcome distractions, and invaluable connections which so many were deprived of during the pandemic. 

Ultimately, clear communication, accessible resources and support for team members are the key lessons businesses should take away from the pandemic. Each of these points is not enough on its own; clear resources will do your business little good if no one reads them and even the most supported worker cannot be in all places at once. A combined approach is essential to ensure, in an increasingly hybrid working model, that open dialogue is pursued and encouraged from a variety of angles. Every business is different, and the exact system of support required will reflect that, but it should be at forefront of all businesses priorities. 

For more information, visit www.arco.co.uk

About the author:

Jo Heselton has worked in health and safety for over 30 years, with the last eight being spent at Arco, the UK’s leading safety products and services provider. Her work during the pandemic was recognised by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), receiving a Covid Workplace Champion award.

Her previous roles include supporting hospitality, retail and distribution businesses in establishing a safe and secure working environment. 

Jo is an expert in her field and has extensive experience in ensuring business continuity and planning to cope with complex situations.