Workplace Risk Assessments and Employee Wellbeing

Workplace risk assessments, dealing with threatening behaviour, and looking after employee wellbeing

Featured in This Week in FM June 2020

Conducting a risk assessment is not just about adjusting furniture to fit in with social distancing or stricter cleaning measures. Louise writes about adopting a more people-centric approach to risk assessments.

Who is Looking out for the Wellbeing of our Frontline Workers?

Health and safety have never been under a greater spotlight. The world is in the grip of a global pandemic caused by a highly infectious virus we can’t see, can’t smell, and can’t taste. For certain groups, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, we know they are statistically more likely to become seriously ill if infected. BAME communities too, and the reasons here are complex and many.

Workers in frontline positions, dealing with the public, have accounted for a significant number of cases. Belly Mujinga was a ticket officer working in London who was spat at and later died of Covid-19. This is not just about the virus. It is not about the protection of staff via physical distancing measures and good hygiene. This is about the manner in which a minority treat others.

Our frontline workers have continued to be at work whilst others have been working from home. As we move steadily out of lockdown tensions are running high. People are feeling anxious, they feel scared. The workplace they are returning to is not the same. A combination of change, high/low demands, feelings of isolation and insecurity are affecting how people behave.

Some have more time to reflect and think. To consider unfairness, injustice, exclusion. Some do not want to go back to how things were, and some do.

Risk Assessments

No amount of rules, guidance, or government messaging is going to explain how to adapt fast enough to the constantly changing landscape. Until a vaccine is found we cannot reduce risk to zero, and we can’t all stay at home.

Risk assessments are a systematic review of what you do and how you do it. If approached with the right frame of mind, risk assessments will show businesses how to make the right risk-based choices, how to adapt, and how to keep adapting. Government messaging will reduce, so it will be down to employers to decide what they do to protect those affected by their undertaking.

These risk assessments are not just about where to put markings on the floor or how to block off seating areas. They need to consider who is going to be affected and their potential vulnerabilities especially as they come back to working in public areas or using public transport. We do not entirely know why people from a BAME background are affected more by the virus, but this does need to be considered within the risk assessment and how staffing is organised. By working in a team to problem solve, people will be the solution and it will encourage team work to get through this uncertain time.

Threatening Behaviour

The potential for threatening and violent behaviour must be risk assessed along with the potential for mental health illness. The risk assessment must consider the impact of leadership decisions which can have a direct impact on the psychological safety of a workplace, and how able staff feel to speak up with concerns and be heard.

Top Tips

  1. Prevention first – Why are people feeling angry or aggressive? Are there issues with the service being provided which could be changed or altered to make it easier to use, even now?
  2. Feedback – Those on the frontline will have ideas and perspectives. They will know and be able to identify where/when threatening behaviour is more likely, so create a workplace where opinions matter. Act on them and ensure staff are not working alone where threatening behaviour is a potential issue
  3. Communication – Leaders need to lead right now, in a manner they have never led before, with clear unambiguous messaging on expectations which have been created based on the views and perspectives of the team
  4. Information, Instruction, Training and Supervision – Provide training and support so staff know how to stay calm, empathise, and deflate challenging situations
  5. Stay Safe – No-one should feel unsafe at work and ultimately anyone faced with aggressive behaviour should be able to retreat to a safe place and call for help

Arrangements should be in place for staff to talk through their concerns. Those returning to work are going to be anxious so encourage them to talk to their colleagues who are already there. Personal responsibility matters too, so encourage healthy lifestyles and exercise.

There should be arrangements in place to deal with mental health illness should this be needed, which means talking therapies and sympathetic HR arrangements.

We are in this together, now more than ever. No two people are being affected in the same way. Ultimately, we all need to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. If this pandemic has shown us anything it is how connected we all are, and it will be these connections which enable us to build back up.

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