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Health and Safety Takes Centre Stage: How SOCOTEC Monitoring is Working Safely During the Coronavirus

Everyone is aware of the unprecedented challenges people around the world are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spread of the virus has been unpredictable, and workplaces of all kinds have had to adapt rapidly to ensure all steps are taken to reduce the impact and risk to staff, clients and partners as the situation evolves.

The person working behind the scenes to ensure SOCOTEC Monitoring is operating according to the latest Site Operating Procedures, published by the Construction Leadership Council, is Malcolm Hazel - HSEQ Manager.

Having started his new role at the company in March, just two weeks before COVID-19 caused workforces to implement strict social distancing rules, it has been a steep undertaking. His new role even involved having to abide by strict social distancing measures at home, having to live separately from his wife for a period of five weeks whilst undertaking the Facility COVID-19 Risk assessments, due to her being immunocompromised.

Now, more than ever, a role in health and safety comes with a tremendous responsibility and is front and centre of working practices. Below, Malcolm shares some of his learnings from tackling COVID-19 in the workplace, and provides an overview of his varied career path, from welder and Peaky Blinders extra to his current critical role at SOCOTEC Monitoring.

How has the emergence of COVID-19 impacted your job?

Health and safety has never felt more relevant than it does right now, and that comes with a lot of responsibility. In order to ensure the safety of the workforce at SOCOTEC Monitoring, I have been constantly learning.

I find the best way to handle a situation is to understand what it is I am facing. This is tricky with an unknown virus and a global pandemic, so I started by taking courses on COVID-19. Once I had a more in-depth knowledge about what we were dealing with I was able to strategise and implement efficient and effective safety practices.

Across the SOCOTEC Group we have been following the measures advised by Public Health England and adhering to the latest Site Operating Procedures issued by the Construction Leadership Council. I have also looked towards large supermarket chains, which has been really helpful, as their health and safety practices have led the way for a large number of workplaces and their systems have rapidly become familiar to many people. I also keep up to date with developments, changes in legislation and best practice in other industries, to see if there are any new learnings to further enhance what I am doing.  

Once I understood more about the virus and had a stronger grasp of what we needed to do to make the workplace safe – both in the office environment and for our teams out on site -  I rolled my sleeves up and got to work.

However, I’m proud to say that SOCOTEC Monitoring was the first division within the SOCOTEC Group to be awarded a COVID-Safe certificate, attesting that the workplace is now as safe as possible, and I have since worked across six other sites to implement similar models.

What changes did you make to the workplace to ensure it is a safe environment?

I was very lucky coming into the role at SOCOTEC Monitoring as the company already had a fantastic health and safety plan in place. The team is also very helpful and proactive, and it makes life so much easier when you have a team that works together to achieve the same result. It has definitely been a collaborative effort to make both physical changes to the office environment and out on site, and to our behaviour patterns.

We implemented floor markings to indicate a two meter distance and staggered desks so that people are able to socially distance. The team members who are able to work from home have been, and we are now operating with a skeleton staff in the office, as the building capacity is much reduced compared to how it was before the pandemic.

We have had to be more flexible with the staff who can’t work remotely, and for those returning to work after being furloughed, or having had time off, we have implemented a staggered return to work process, which includes:

  • Pre-work health screening questionnaire
  • Using an infrared thermometer to check temperatures
  • Full COVID-19 risk assessment of work premises
  • Drafting of SOCOTEC COVID-19 safe working practices
  • Induction brief for returning staff
  • Raising of signage and segregation of workstations / walkways / stairwells
  • Sourcing essential Coronavirus protection measures, including hand sanitizer, HEPA filters for air con units and hand dryers, cloth face coverings, all in line with the requirements set out by the UK Government and Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • Staggering shifts to monitor and control access and egress, enabling us to contact trace in the event of someone contracting the virus

The nature of SOCOTEC Monitoring’s work involves a great deal of time on-site.  How have you adapted working practices to ensure safety on construction sites?

Our safety critical sites have remained operational throughout the pandemic, so maintaining a safe environment for our site technicians and project managers has been, and continues to be, key.

There is a three-tiered system for on-site safety. These are rules put in place by the government, individual contractors and some of our own. SOCOTEC Monitoring’s safety regulations are informed by government guidelines and were created in accordance with them, they are constantly being reviewed and amended. This ensures we are always performing to the highest site safety standards.

How do you keep health and safety interesting?

With humour. Health and safety doesn’t need to be boring, and I find that people retain far more information if you can educate and inject a sense of humour at the same time. At the moment, this is even more important. I send around updates with light-hearted jokes, and I’ve added different coloured ‘grumpy bum’ stickers to the hard surfaces around the office so everyone knows where they need to wipe down after using the different facilities, and reminding people to sanitise their hands afterwards.

How did you get into health and safety?

My work history has been filled with a series of unexpected opportunities that eventually led me to health and safety. I left the forces in the 80’s and started working as a labourer for a company called J. Murphy & Sons. They had a terrific ethos which always stuck with me. They believed that if someone needed help with a job they were doing, regardless of what that job was, you should help them. So, one day when a welders mate didn’t turn up to work, it seemed a natural fit for me to step in to help. I started working in that field, eventually becoming a welder myself.

I continued working as a welder for a few years until there was an accident on site in the 90’s which lead to an in-depth health and safety consultation. With a core belief of adhering to rigorous safety measures, it was no surprise that the site had been operating in accordance with the correct regulations, however, the need for an employee health and safety representative was identified. I was nominated for the position and as a result I received a great deal of training, setting me on the path I am currently on.

Do you have any advice for people thinking about a career in health and safety?

The sector has changed a great deal over recent months and everyone is paying more attention now to health and safety. I’ve found it vital to teach people about viruses and how to avoid spreading them. It helps people to understand why implementing strict hygiene practices and enforcing social isolation, where possible, is so important.

I can’t see working practices returning to ‘normal’ for some time, so it’s going to be crucial for anyone looking for a role in health and safety to be proactive and think ahead, and always have a Plan B to fall back on.

For more information about how SOCOTEC Monitoring is continuing to operate while mitigating risk, please visit the Coronavirus Client Information page on the website.