Our monthly update explores the focus area of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as they continue to visit workplaces across the UK for spot checks and inspections. We also provide a roundup of prosecutions from the previous month, highlighting the commonly identified issues for employers to avoid.

Following the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, HSE inspectors are paying close attention to virus transmission in the workplace, especially considering the increased risk during winter. In addition to this, the HSE has launched its Working Minds campaign for work-related stress and mental health, meaning employee wellbeing will remain a high priority for visits during this month.

Are you assessing workplace ventilation?

Ensuring that your workplace allows fresh air to flow through it is essential for reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission. This is no revelation, with businesses being encouraged to do this since their employees began returning to work.

However, concerns surrounding the impact of the Omicron variant mean that the HSE are ramping up their efforts to inspect workplace ventilation, and all other protective measures for Covid-19 transmission.

To help with this, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) have developed a free ventilation assessment tool, allowing employers to check how effective their ventilation systems are in reducing Covid-19 transmission.

You can access the free ventilation assessment tool here.

Implementing a mechanical ventilation system (HVACs) is another effective method of reducing Covid-19 risk in your workplace.

HVACs bring fresh air into buildings using a combination of fans, ducts, heating, and ventilation systems. However, it is important that HVACs are set up to maximise fresh air, rather than recirculating existing air.

If your organisation uses these systems, but is not responsible for their management or maintenance, it is important to check with those in control to ensure that fresh air is being maximised.

For more information on improving ventilation in your workplace, call us our health and safety team on 0345 076 2288 or send us an email.

New guidance for recognising stress and ill mental health

The HSE has now launched its Working Minds campaign, which aims to educate employers on the triggers of work-related stress and ill mental health.

All organisations have a legal duty to support employee wellbeing, and with 17.9 million yearly absences being attributed to mental health, it is clear to see that this duty should be taken seriously.

Assessing the risk of work-related stress is a crucial step towards protecting your employees, with this process informing your efforts to provide ongoing support.

The importance of ongoing support is reaffirmed by the campaigns message of ‘Make it routine’, encouraging employers to:

  • Reach out
  • Recognise
  • Respond
  • Reflect

By following these steps regularly, organisations will be better equipped to recognise potential issues and reduce the likelihood of them escalating further.

If you would like further guidance surrounding mental health at work, AHR Consultants can help. We are providers of Mental Health First Aid training, with full details on this course and its benefits available here.

Employers fined over £2million during November

Prosecutions in November covered separate incidents involving three fatalities and 13 significant injury or ill health incidents. Overall, this led to over £2million in fines being paid by employers.

One prison sentence was issued to a company director after failing to comply with multiple enforcement notices, with the sentence spanning a total of 12 months. This was issued in relation to numerous structural safety breaches, as well as the unsafe use of forklift trucks.

A landlord was also sentenced to a 12-month community order involving 100 hours of unpaid work, after failing to maintain gas appliances at a rental property.

The largest individual fine issued in November was £768,000, after a contractor and security company were deemed liable for the death of a security guard on a windfarm site in Scotland. Upon investigation by the HSE, it was found that the guard’s death was a result of an unsuitable emergency procedure, which failed to consider the impact of poor weather conditions on communication and site power.

According to the HSE’s inspector for the incident, the death could have been avoided if the company had completed a suitable risk assessment for poor weather conditions, with sufficient means provided for the guards to communicate on and off the site.

Commonly identified issues in the month’s other incidents were:

  • Unsuitable risk assessments
  • No safe systems of work
  • Poor training
  • Lack of thorough safety check and workplace inspection
  • Insufficient supervision
  • Lack of work permit
  • Use of unlicenced contractors (relating to asbestos and gas heater)
  • Poor health and safety management system

It is vital for employers to be robust in their approach to assessing workplace risk, as ultimately these efforts can be lifesaving. While you may already have risk assessments in place, are you confident that they would be considered suitable and sufficient from the perspective of an enforcement officer? Reviewing your risk assessments regularly is just as important as completing them in the first place.

With our team of experienced H&S Consultants, we can provide onsite support with the creation of risk assessments and complete a comprehensive review of your existing approach. This service is supported by further guidance on control measures and workplace procedures, helping you to attain peace of mind in the safety of your business. As experts in all areas of health and safety, we can also act as your competent person, provide employee training, and deliver immediate legal advice.

Call us today on 0345 076 2288 or complete the form below to see how we can help.

This article was written by Akinjide Ajisafe, who is a H&S Consultant and Fire Risk Assessor in our team of health and safety experts.