Thinking back to Monday 16th March 2020 I remember getting up early. I was due to visit one of our homes in Tewkesbury. I was just about to leave the house when an email landed from a senior Director telling us all to ‘Hold’ all visits and be ready for a conference call that morning. Yes, this was the start of the ‘Lock Down’. With the benefit of hindsight, how ready were we for what was about to happen next?
Our management team had already undertaken various strategic planning exercises. On the 16th March, a ‘’strategic executive team’’ was established and a planning and response procedure produced – this is still a live document.
Office based staff were then asked to work from home. Within a few days we received reports that a member of staff based at home had hit their head on a shelf. Maybe time for a DSE assessment perhaps? ‘We could see it was time to jump into action’
So how did we respond?
One of the first H&S challenges we encountered was the number of contractors who might be visiting our homes. All non-essential visits had been stopped. LOLER inspections presented us with a few more challenges. LOLER engineers would normally have access to all areas throughout our homes. We deemed this should be classed as an essential visit and decided the best way forward would be to minimise the ‘’movements’’ undertaken by the engineer within each home. We decided to allocate an area/lounge for the engineer to work in and all equipment would be brought to them, checked and put back in situ. This would maintain social distancing measures and minimise the risk of cross contamination issues within the home.
In terms of Home working, the Health and Safety team have developed a 2 page self-assessment which now combines DSE, lone working and fire safety. It’s easier to use in its current form and far more streamlined.
Laundry – we have reviewed our procedures and produced a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to help address concerns relating to contaminated items
Cleaning – Supply issues meant we needed to work quickly to source different sanitizers and undertake new COSHH risk assessments which are now in place.
In terms of cleaning rooms with confirmed or suspected Covid -19. A Standard operating procedure was also produced.
Maintaining fire safety is an important issue for all care providers at this time. We had a number of homes with on-going improvement plans in place that have been identified in a Fire Risk Assessment. To help minimise the onsite visits to the homes by contractors, the team carried out a review of all live/ongoing fire risk assessment actions. Each action was assigned a RAG (red, amber or green) rating. This helped us to identify any works classed as essential (safety critical). Contractors will now only be permitted to attend sites to complete the remedial works where the works are deemed Safety critical.
RIDDOR reporting of Covid-19 is now reportable as a disease. This is effective from the 5th April. The challenge for us: If a member of staff did develop Covid-19, how would we know it was as a result of workplace exposure? We have since developed a screening questionnaire, to help identify when a report is in fact necessary
Fire & Rescue Services were starting to contact us both through the H&S Team and locally directly to our homes. Different levels of concerns were raised by different Fire & Rescue Services regarding their planned response to 999 calls. They were aware of the risks associated with Covid 19. The fire service wanted to ensure the safety of their crew. They would want to know the number of positive Covid-19 cases and also suspected cases before they were able to respond. We have agreed working protocols in such an event that maintain safety for all.
Finally, we are opening a number of new build homes which we would inspect and support with the registration/opening. We agreed that such inspections could be undertaken remotely with support happening virtually.
The past few weeks have been really challenging. Times are indeed unprecedented. We have been presented with a number of questions that we didn’t immediately have an answer to. At times we have been asked to make the impossible, possible. What mattered then was that we were determined to find a solution, which made sense and ensured some form of business continuity.
Now looking forward, I’m sure there will be a whole host of new challenges and also new questions. We will continue to offer the support and advice as and when it is needed as we have always done before and we will try and become even more ‘’solution focussed’’ along the way
Seemingly there are answers to most questions, but only if you are committed to finding them.
Why do we do this job I hear you ask? Because safety – saves lives and has never been more important.
Andy Hollingshead (H&S Manager), Lisa Harris (H&S Manager) and Paul Mason (H&S Director).