Practitioner viewpoint - July 2020

29 April 2020

So, it’s Easter weekend, 3 weeks into the Corvid-19 UK lockdown, and Louise Ward has been reflecting on the most bizarre 4 weeks of my career so far.

I'VE ALWAYS been aware of the theoretical possibility of a global pandemic, and like most of you I’ve included a cautionary entry on the business risk register, but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the speed at which this novel Coronavirus has swept across the world, or for the impact that it has had on every part of our lives.

I’ve written before about the inherent adaptability of our profession, the way that we are able to harvest and process information in order to develop bespoke risk control methodologies for the businesses we support. Never have those skills been in greater demand than they are now! Most of us are not medical or scientific experts, but by applying the core principles of effective risk management we are steering a pathway through the ever changing government and scientific guidance in order to protect the people, who are of course our companies’ most precious resource, whilst also facilitating business activity wherever possible.

Many businesses, viewed as essential by government, are still working, but the way that we work has changed fundamentally in the last few weeks. Health and safety professionals have been at the forefront of this change, researching and advising to ensure that risk management remains robust as we adapt to a new reality.

In front line operations procedures have been adapted for social distancing, and PPE sourced for critical tasks where this isn’t possible. Offices remain open, with adaptations for social distancing, however the majority of people are being encouraged to work from home unless there is a particular need for them to go into the office.

In this day and age we all have laptops and mobiles, and IT departments across the world have rolled out VPN solutions, collaboration platforms and video calling software to allow us to remain connected. Concerned about isolation, we’re doing lots to promote mental wellbeing and virtual social interaction, including coffee and lunch catch ups, after work drinks using the online party apps, buddying and virtual chat using social media. Mindful of musculoskeletal risk, we’re also issuing guidance on sensible use of technology, good posture, managing demand and structuring the virtual working day to include breaks, exercise and task variation.

There is no doubt that this period of significant adversity has inspired positive innovation and ingenuity in our profession, but I am saddened that our work has been frustrated by the need to navigate ingenuity of a much more sinister kind. A small number of individuals and organisations have sought to benefit from this unprecedented situation through the propagation of fake news, misinformation, fraudulent products and unnecessary services.

Never has it been more important for us as health and safety professionals to have a network of trusted expert advisers and suppliers that we can rely on to support us. I’d like to highlight the excellent work being done by specialist media, such as HSM, trade organisations such as BSIF and our professional bodies and membership organisations, to ensure that we have access to trusted sources of products, services, information and support. 

It has been really heartening to see reputable and highly professional organisations rising to the challenge, offering free webinars, guidance material, virtual ask the expert sessions, electronic learning and product support sessions, to ensure that we have access to the very best advice and support as we act to protect UK workers. I’m confident that as time goes on and we gradually return to normality, this altruism will lead to new business relationships and opportunities built on trust, respect and a shared sense of purpose around ensuring that workers receive the very best protection in every situation.

There is no doubt that the last four weeks have been something of a rollercoaster! And we’re not done yet! There is still a long way to go before we are likely to see a return to the work and personal lives that we knew before this pandemic. But I very much hope that we won’t just slip back into the ‘norm’. I hope we will be able to retain and build on some of the positive innovation and collaboration that has supported us through these difficult times. We can’t do anything to mitigate the terrible loss associated with so many premature deaths, be we can honor the memory of those who have died by ensuring that we learn and adapt to make sure that we are better able to respond and protect people in the future.

Take care, keep talking and stay safe.