Being a health and safety representative during the pandemic has been busy, challenging, emotive and also very rewarding.
By Paula Wheeler, physiotherapy technical instructor, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Trust
'I became a health and safety representative five years ago. At that stage I had been a physiotherapy support worker for 20 years and having embarked upon previous career development pathways I felt ready for the next challenge.
'On discussion of my personal development plan during supervision sessions we established there was a need for a health and safety representative.
'This was a role that was already close to my heart with being a manual handling key trainer within the trust, therefore I wholeheartedly embarked upon the opportunity.'
I was approached by anxious CSP members during the first wave of the pandemic for reassurance that the correct government guidelines and policies were being adhered to within our trust.
Their queries related to; shielding, periods of isolation and being provided with the correct type of PPE depending on the areas they were working. I made reference to the government guidance on a daily basis to ensure that it was being implemented correctly at a local level.
I continue to be approached by CSP members during the second and current third waves.
The nature of their anxieties have changed from being more general about operational procedures and implementation of government policies as these were now well established within the trust to seeking support on a more personal level.
I therefore implemented a staff stress survey in order to ascertain the true extent of the problem and to assist the trust in implementing the appropriate support for their staff.
The over-riding themes from the questionnaire were that staff felt, overwhelmed, tired, and short staffed due to on-going problems with Covid related sickness. Working under the same conditions as my colleagues I had the same feelings and was able to fully relate to what they were going through.
The majority of the time staff members just needed someone to listen to their concerns and were generally reassured after conversing with myself as health and safety representative. I signposted members to the additional support within the organisation including health and well-being advice or online support to websites such as ‘live well NHS’ or ‘headspace’.
Myself and the CSP steward took the initiative to approach our HR partner when it came to light that the general risk assessment within the trust was not sensitive enough to identify the most vulnerable staff members with a disability or long-term condition. It is now being acknowledged within the trust that these individuals need additional more sensitive risk assessment specific to their disease for example Chron's disease. This was a positive outcome for our members and a good example of what working in partnership with HR can achieve.
It is our best hope that with the rollout of the vaccine programme that there will be less pressure placed on the hospital trust as a whole and therefore also on staff members leading to a reduction in the psychological and emotional impact that has been seen through the second and third waves.
If you are thinking of becoming a health and safety rep, don’t hesitate to give it a go as the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
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