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Many businesses failing on managing staff health correctly

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

It is usually when something goes wrong, that I get a call from a Client (or someone new) in a sheer state of panic.

"We've had an employee put in a claim" or "we've had an accident" are not words you want to hear for anyone, but it happens. And when it does, thoughts turn quickly to what will happen next and what will be expected of you as a Company.

Situations such as these are not ones that you can reactively 'fix'; they require you to be doing things correctly, routinely - all the time. Naturally, if you have been, the chances of a situation arising is far less anyway, that's why we call it a proactive approach.

But often, businesses still don't want to be bothered with ensuring health and safety practice and process is good, or simply don't know what it is they need to do, until the inevitable happens and then they wish they had put in the legwork.

Scenario - Injury

Take this scenario. You have someone cut themselves on a machine and lose a finger. The HSE and solicitors are involved and you are asked to produce all your documentation to show what safety measures you had in place. In the first instance you feel no concern; guarding was fitted and in good order, they were trained on using the equipment, you have a risk assessment. But what you will be asked for here goes far deeper. Do you carry out pre use checks? Was the guard fitted and working on the day in question? Was the training recorded and specifically cover guarding, power, cleaning, maintenance etc? Do you refresh the training? How do you monitor health and safety conduct? What supervision was present? Whilst PUWER and other regulations may state that certain checks don't need to be written down, you must ask yourself... "Will I need to demonstrate/ evidence what we have in place at any time?" If the answer is yes, then I would record it anyway as good practice.

Scenario - Illness

Take another scenario. You have a new starter, you do all of the above. They're trained. its recorded, they're supervised until deemed competent, regularly refreshed and checked. You have signed risk assessments. You receive a call one day explaining that this employee has gone on long term sick due to respiratory illness. It transpires that a few of his colleagues were perfectly aware he had asthma but as an employer you had never asked and he had never told. So what would happen here? It is your responsibility as an employer to ask the question. An employee may not think to mention unprompted as they won't yet fully understand the hazards of their new workplace. If you are not aware of an underlying condition, you cannot risk assess for it. Had you have asked about medical conditions, you would then have been able to determine if any tasks you intend to allocate to your employee could exacerbate any underlying condition, or if they would need any adjustment. It transpires that this employee has been regularly working in an area with a sensitising substance and it specifically says on the data sheet that those with asthma or respiratory illness must not use it. To add, because the health information was not requested at the beginning, you have no baseline testing available to be able to see if the condition has been made worse, or if was was already present at the time and has in fact, not been made worse through the course of their work.

HR & H&S Communication

It is crucial that the process of bringing employees into the business is competently managed and that a process is in place to enable effective, compliant communications with those in the business who may need to know employee details. All too often it is the HR person or department that collects initial medical information, but there is little thought about who may need to know about any answers. Health & Safety persons or teams, Line Managers and others directly involved in the employees work may need to be made aware. And GDPR? GDPR is not intended to be obstructive. It is about ensuring that sensitive information sharing is necessary. If a Line Manager needs to know that someone has narcolepsy, epilepsy, asthma or anything else, you must ensure that the process is in place and adhered to, to pass the information to those assigning tasks or risk assessing. It is often this part that is missed. Remember in law you are all one - "The Company" and it won't wash if one department knew but didn't communicate to another if it is at the detriment of the health of an employee.

The free seminar in 2022 will cover all of this in greater detail, along with practical advice on how to implement procedures to ensure effective management of employee health to not only protect employees, but also to protect your business. Further details coming soon.

Written by: Hayley Tollervey

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