The focus of Birketts Health and Safety Conference, held on 4 November 2021, was the ‘H’ in health and safety. Whilst HSE statistics show slips, trips and falls are the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces, and are often the initiator of accidents attributed to other causes, mental wellbeing is increasingly becoming a significant and important consideration. On 16 November 2021 the HSE launched its own campaign, Working Minds, calling for a culture of change across workplaces to ensure psychological risks are treated the same as physical risks in health and safety risk management.
Figures suggest, prior to COVID-19, that 20-30% of workers were "struggling" and it is estimated that mental health cost UK employers up to £45bn a year. As we emerge from the pandemic it is anticipated that these figures will only increase as we adopt new ways of working, such as remote and hybrid working, and face new challenges like the impact of long COVID.
If an employee is fatigued, distracted or has something affecting their focus, for example financial worries or stresses at home, then the risk of them having an accident increases. That is not to say that they should not be at work, as often work can be a welcome sense of normality and focus providing positive health benefits. The key for employers is to adopt a culture of care to assist in being able to identify if something is not quite right; is the employee acting out of character or are they unusually quiet, for example.
The methods used can and will vary between businesses. They can be as simple as opening a line of communication. Ask “How are you?”, then listen and respond to the answer given. They can be more formal, with the provision of training on how to spot signs that a colleague may be struggling or by the appointment of mental health first aiders within the work place. Whichever system is in place, the most important thing is to communicate its existence and encourage employees to utilise it.
Investing in the mental wellbeing of employees will not only reduce risks within the workplace. It can also lead to reduced sickness and increased staff morale, productivity and turnover.
For practical specialist advice on how to drive a positive health and safety culture within the workplace, please contact Rebecca Utton or another member of the Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2022.