A near-deserted Liverpool Street Station, City of London, during the coronavirus crisis. Shutterstock
With the focus within occupational health beginning to shift from the immediate healthcare challenges of managing Covid-19 to how workplaces and the economy can safely reopen, SOM (the Society of Occupational Medicine) has developed a post-pandemic return-to-work “toolkit” for OH practitioners.
The toolkit, created with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the mental health charity Mind, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), and Business in the Community, has highlighted how it will be particularly important to be managing mental health issues, along with infection control and safer working practices.
Professor Anne Harriss, who will become SOM’s first OH nurse president next month, said: “This toolkit has highlighted that OH will have key leadership role in getting the UK economy up and running again.”
OH’s challenges are likely to include helping employers to understand how “stringent social distancing” can be applied in the workplace and guiding organisations through a range of risk management areas, including cleaning and disinfection, ergonomics and hygiene/ventilation systems.
“The main transmission infection risks can be made into a simple risk assessment which would link the clinical vulnerability risk to the specific workplace risk, giving just as much emphasis to the latter part in order to complete a useful over risk individual risk assessment on the workplace risk of serious ill health from Covid-19,” the document has said.
Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, added: “Many people will be concerned and anxious about being in workplaces or travelling to workplaces and they will want to know that their organisations are changing their thinking about flexible and remote working and that they are retaining their support for mental health and wellbeing.”
The toolkit, launched in the wake of the government publishing its “roadmap” guidance for re-opening the economy in the wake of the pandemic, has come as OH practitioners working outside the NHS have warned that the profession risks being overwhelmed by the scale of individual and workplace health challenges they may face post-pandemic.
As one specialist practitioner told Occupational Health & Wellbeing: “There is a risk of a second overwhelming, and it won’t be the NHS frontline, it will be occupational health, and there are not enough of us, we know that.”
The SOM return-to-work toolkit can be found on its website and will be supplemented by a series of webinars, with details again being made available online.
Separately, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) has argued there are areas of risk that have not been addressed by government’s guidance on safe return to work.
It has published new guidance to help its members and leaders of organisations tackle the challenges of returning to work after lockdown, which addresses safety-critical issues as well as return-to-work issues specific to tackling the challenges of the virus.
“Many businesses had to shut down premises in a hurry and with no idea how long it would be before they started up again. That means that all of the processes that are there to keep people safe from harmful exposures to chemicals, biological agents and other hazards have not been in operation. A proper plan and risk assessment is needed before starting up processes and bringing people back to work,” said BOHS president Kelvin Williams.