iOH agrees that we must support Public Health England to protect the NHS and save lives within the High Consequence Infectious Diseases strategy.
The rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19 brings significant challenges for the OH community, as it does in all walks of life. At this extraordinary time, everyone’s immediate focus should rightly be on the safety and well-being of themselves, their families and those who they are responsible for.
We recognise that COVID-19 is likely to have a substantial impact on all workplaces.
Although the full implications will take some time to become clear, we intend to address the issues that arise as sympathetically and flexibly as possible.
Our current position is as follows:
Health risk assessment and Risk Management, including personal protective equipment, need to be implemented to address the significant changes to the nature of the work that employees are undertaking and the environment they will be working in.[i]
We recommend that the following distinct employee groups and their defined workplace(s) within their employing organisation need a rapid group health risk assessment in order to:
- “secure the health, safety and welfare of employees and other people at work;
- protect the public from the health and safety risks of business activities;
- eliminate workplace risks at the source; and
- involve employers, employees and the organisations that represent them in the formulation and implementation of health, safety and welfare standards”[ii]
This needs to feed into the current Gold / Silver / Bronze command structure and/or crisis team and into the people strategy within the current COVID crisis:
NHS and healthcare
- Professionally qualified clinical staff
- Allied Health Professionals
- Laboratory staff
- Central functions (Cleaners, Porters, Estates, Stores, Security)
- Pharmacy staff
Other key workers
- Animal care
- Construction and trades
- Emergency and uniform services
- Engineering and maintenance
- Environment and land
- Government services
- Home services and Social care
- Hospitality and food
- Media & news
- Retail and sales e.g. Food and Fuel
- Science and research
- Teaching and education
- Transport, Delivery and storage
iOH further acknowledges the likely impact on the mental health of workers across all sectors including providers of Occupational Health. We are aware that many of the risk factors for increased suicidal thoughts and mental ill-health including and not limited to unemployment, financial crisis, bereavement, depression, alcohol and drug use, guilt and shame could be especially pertinent during and after this pandemic. iOH recommends that OH practitioners familiarise themselves with local support services, national organisations and the details of what Employee Assistance Providers offer, not only to direct employees but to their wider family. Further, OH practitioners could make themselves aware of any sector-relevant charities that provide wellbeing support and in some cases support during financial hardship, for example:
- https://www.lighthouseclub.org/ for the construction sector
- https://www.veteransservicelse.nhs.uk/ for veterans
- https://www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/how-we-help-2 for firefighters
- https://www.retailtrust.org.uk/about-us for retail and supporting services
- https://www.hospitalityaction.org.uk/ for the hospitality sector
- https://www.bwcharity.org.uk/about-us/our-support-services for current and former bank workers
Regarding support for day to day management by OH practitioners in their role, iOH encourages that any information referred to is from a current and valid source, for example, the British Government, the World Health Organisation and Public Health England. OH Practitioners are likely to benefit from increasing their knowledge on common mental health challenges such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts. iOH offers access to knowledge leaders via their membership and encourage members to approach any member of the board to explore this further.
Regarding management of personal mental fitness for OH Practitioners iOH encourages members to connect with peers via Facebook, JiscMail or other virtual platforms that enable regular opportunities to offload and share expertise. A balanced approach to exposure to social media is advised that includes setting a specific timeframe in which to read information on the various social media platforms. iOH members can access a confidential and supportive listener by contacting Libby Morley via email in the first instance via email@example.com
Lastly iOH encourages OH Practitioners to refer to and implement actions described in the Five ways to Wellbeing, an evidence based guidance tool that supports resilience, and is aware that some of the suggested activities may need to be improvised on during the current pandemic.