H&S issues for year ahead
As the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to continue into 2021, my employer requested that I undertake a “horizon scanning” exercise to identify potential health and safety risks going forward. Could you outline the potential issues that will need to be addressed?
Horizon scanning is the process of systematically anticipating, identifying and preparing for new or changing risks in workplaces.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have significant impacts on how a business operates both in the near future and going forward long term due to the need to carry on applying the relevant secure guidelines.
Although good progress is being made in terms of the development of vaccines and improved treatments, there are no certainties at present and it must be borne in mind that the virus is still circulating and is likely to for some time to come. Some Covid risk control measures may still be required going into 2021.
As such, changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic may have to continue and even become a more permanent change, with many commentators in particular noting that the technological revolution in the workplace has been rapidly evolving during the current crisis.
As well as increasing innovation, the pandemic is having a significant impact on the world economy and as such a business may have to cut its cloth accordingly and restructure to continue sustainable operations.
All of the above factors will influence the business operating model and subsequently the risk profile of an organisation, including health and safety risks. The key is to try to identify the potential (significant changes to the risk profile).
This will be very much organisational specific and will continue to be influenced by the national approach to combating the pandemic. The key is to gather and collate appropriate information that will help inform the analysis.
In respect of the workplace, key issues to take into account when horizon scanning could include the following.
- Any ongoing, temporary or permanent changes to working practices with new complex technologies and the impact these are having on employee welfare and wellbeing issues (leading to increased psycho-social problems and musculoskeletal disorders, etc).
- Workforce demographics (eg whether your workforce is at higher risk of Covid (ie older or of ethnic minority), whether they are capable of undertaking changes to work practices long term/permanently, etc).
- Any workforce restructurings and reductions (leading to stress, loss of competency and corporate knowledge, etc).
- Ongoing workforce safety management such as limited training and monitoring (leading to low levels of risk awareness and health issues not being identified associated with new working).
- Increased employee isolation and limited physical activity from homeworking (leading to obesity, physical and mental ill-health, etc).
- Necessary changes to the workplace use and occupancy (issues with building compliance, increased need for cleaning, security/fire safety risks, etc).
- Emergency management (impacts on first aid, fire safety, future outbreak management, future pandemic spikes, business continuity, etc).
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