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World Day for Safety and Health at Work

26 April 2022

World Day for Safety and Health at Work - 'Open Communication is Crucial in Building a Safer Workplace'

This year's World Day for Safety and Health at Work focuses on participation and social dialogue to foster a positive safety and health culture.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Arco, the UK’s leading safety company, developed effective ways of communicating with its colleagues from a safety, health and environment (SHE) perspective and is keen to maintain these high standards in the future.

However, in recent years, a shift to new forms of working, such as hybrid models, has presented opportunities for workers but also posed potential risks, including a decline in mental health and wellbeing.

At the peak of the pandemic, psychological distress across the nation hit an all-time high and it is estimated that one-in-six people experienced a common mental health problem. In the UK, that's equivalent to over 10 million people.

The uncertainty caused by the pandemic meant the way businesses communicated was critical to manage the fears and concerns of their colleagues and it remains just as important today.

Although restrictions have eased, many businesses continue to operate with hybrid models.

Jo Heselton, Arco's Group Safety, Health and Environmental Manager, said:

"There are many days where employees cannot simply look over their shoulder to check on a colleague, so we need new methods to provide consistent support and an open dialogue to ensure our workplace is safe from a mental health perspective."

Jo has worked in health and safety for over 30 years and her work during the pandemic was recognised by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), receiving a Covid Workplace Champion Award.

"Mental health should always be a priority for employers and one of the best ways to address this effectively is to have a dedicated team of mental health first aiders. Mental health first aiders act as a first point of contact for colleagues with mental health issues, providing support and guidance."

As well as dedicated and trained mental health first aiders, a strong and open internal communication system is a critical part of maintaining a positive dialogue and culture. For example, setting up a wellbeing hub that is frequently updated with mindfulness tips, FAQs and employee assistance programmes, such as confidential phone-line support. It's also a great place to share tailored advice for colleagues, with specific information relevant to their team and the potential for employees to share their own stories. Creating guides specifically for colleagues to use and share with friends and family can also help employees feel valued and informed.

Jo added:

"As businesses look ahead at the 'new normal' of hybrid working, it's important not to neglect the social and human benefits of the workplace.

"Assistance during working hours is important but supporting individuals who are isolated should also be a priority for employees' welfare. Colleagues and volunteers from across the business can organise virtual opportunities outside of work hours to promote human connection, for example, cooking and music lessons, quizzes and even seasonal activities like a virtual pantomime! Activities like these provide welcome distractions, and invaluable connections which so many were deprived of during the pandemic."

In terms of final thoughts for businesses and organisations seeking to build on what they learned during the pandemic and develop best practice."

Jo said:

"Ultimately, clear communication, accessible resources and support for team members are the key lessons businesses should take away from the pandemic. Each of these points is not enough on its own; clear resources will do your business little good if no one reads them and even the most supported worker cannot be in all places at once. A combined approach is essential to ensure, in an increasingly hybrid working model, that open dialogue is pursued and encouraged from a variety of angles. Every business is different, and the exact system of support required will reflect that, but it should be at forefront of all businesses priorities."

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