Psycho-Social Hazards in a Global Pandemic
Most organisations will by now have a Covid-19 pandemic risk assessment and a plan for working during the pandemic. Hazards which were relatively easy to identify and control when employees were under the same roof or at least meeting regularly are less visible and controllable now. It is worth taking a closer look at psycho-social hazards and risks, and how they may have been changed by the pandemic and our responses to it. The HSA has developed excellent work from home guidance and a risk assessment checklist which addresses the physical aspects of work from home, i.e. ergonomics, emergency response, work station layout and housekeeping. It is important to also identify the factors which may cause psycho-social problems for people and develop strategies for addressing them.
Some of the factors which may impact on employee well-being include:
- Employees are increasingly working from home.
- Employees coming into the workplace are generally meeting less people and distancing from those they do meet.
- Employees may be more vulnerable to external factors such as home pressures, money worries, loneliness, addiction.
- Instances of bullying and harassment may be more likely to occur and less likely to detect or report.
- Employees may have lost their normal outlets for recreation and relaxation.
- Support from colleagues and management may require more planning as normal contacts are missing.
- Concerns about employment sustainability may be increased.
- Some activities may be more difficult to implement and take longer due to separation from colleagues, suppliers, contractors, and customers.
- Employees with underlying health conditions may feel particularly isolated as they may not have the option to go to the workplace at all.
Strategies and initiatives which may help employees in these situations include:
- Where home working is required, consider whether a blended work structure including some time at the normal work place could be implemented.
- Provide opportunities to meet while socially distancing, for example in the canteen.
- Ensure employees are fully aware of any Employee Assistance Programmes which are available and know how to contact the provider.
- Where a formal EAP is not in place, consider providing counselling on a less formal but confidential basis.
- Reinforce the company policies on bullying and harassment, and in particular emphasise the importance and mechanism for reporting any issues with stress, bullying or harassment.
- Promote readily available outdoor activities like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling etc. within any applicable restrictions.
- Consider providing yoga or other activities facilitated by Teams/Zoom etc.
- Provide regular updates by email or preferably by remote meetings so that employees know how the company is coping with the pandemic.
- Provide regular informal contact opportunities.
- Ensure everyone remains in the loop – consider a separate welfare risk assessment with individuals, particularly where they cannot attend the workplace in person.
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