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News & Updates

Broadcast September 2021

This month’s Broadcast covers the end of the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) and one of the unfortunate consequences – redundancies.

And, as it is Back care Awareness Week next week, we discuss how to look after your back, whether working from home or in the workplace. There’s also a link to our free extended toolbox talk video on Manual Handling.

Our Compliance team talks about fire safety and offers some simple solutions to what can be a complex problem.

Finally, there are some of our most recent news stories that you may have missed.

As ever, if you have any questions about any of these topics, contact you advisor or call 01427 678 660 and one of the team will be happy to help.

The end of Furlough and the redundancy process

Before the pandemic struck, many of us had not used the word “furlough” at all in our daily lives, but since March 2020, certainly in the HR world, it seems we have lived and breathed it. 

We are all now well versed in what the furlough scheme is, and the most recent Government figures show 11.6 million jobs have been supported by the scheme. These same statistics also show that as of 30 June 2021, 1.9 million employees remain on furlough. 

So, with the scheme set to end at the end of September, where does this leave employers who continue to feel the pinch of the pandemic?

We know the purpose of the scheme was to protect jobs and avoid redundancies and, in some cases, the scheme has achieved this aim. However, for some employers this has only delayed the inevitable and you may now find yourselves in the position of having to make those redundancies.

Embarking on the redundancy process can often be daunting and in some cases, personally upsetting to an employer. The dread of making redundancies can often be attributed to the fear of making an innocent mistake, which ends up being costly and time consuming for the employer.

Following a fair and “reasonable” procedure when making redundancies can prevent a problem before it has even begun. We set out the key steps below:

Step 1 – is there a genuine redundancy situation?

  • Is there a closure of the business or the place of the business where the employee works? Or is there a reduced need for employees who carry out that kind of work? If the answer to any of these is yes, we can move forward. 


Step 2 – consider your pool of employees, selection criteria and any available vacancies

  • Unfortunately this is not the type of pool you hoped to find yourself in this summer! This pool will be made up of employees at risk of redundancy.
     
  • If any employees in your pool are pregnant or on certain types of family leave, you should consult closely with a HR Advisor. 
     
  • If more than 20 redundancies are being proposed in 90 days, you will need to collectively consult and notify the Secretary of State. 
     
  • You then need to propose your selection criteria if one is necessary. The criteria must be objective and capable of independent verification and, crucially, not be discriminatory against any employee with a protected characteristic. 
     
  • Then list alternative vacancies on a group-wide basis.
     

Step 3 – Notify the Secretary of State (if more than 20 redundancies are going to be made in a 90-day period)

  • At least 30 days before the first dismissal takes place if 20-99 employees are to be made redundant; or
     
  • At least 45 days before the first dismissal takes place if more than 100 employees will be made redundant in a 90-day period
     

Step 4 – The first meeting

  • Hold a group meeting with all at risk employees telling them why redundancies may be necessary; how many jobs are at risk of redundancy; that ways of avoiding redundancies are being considered; extend an invitation for voluntary redundancies; invite employees to make suggestions on how redundancies could be avoided; and explain the selection pools and the proposed selection criteria.
     

Step 5 – Follow up in writing

  • You need to repeat everything you say at the meeting at step 4 in writing.
     

Step 6 – Collectively consult with employee representatives (where necessary)

  • You only need to collectively consult when 20 or more redundancies are being proposed within 90-days. 
  • To appoint a representative, elections will need to take place which must be done following a set procedure. Your HR Advisor can assist you with this.
  • During consultation you should try and agree on ways and means of avoiding/reducing redundancies, the pool and selection criteria.
     

Step 7 – Score the employees

  • Score each employee in the pool at risk of redundancy against the selection criteria. Make sure that the scoring is objective and does not discriminate against any employee with a protected characteristic.
     

Step 8 – Write to employees provisionally selected for redundancy 

  • Those employees who scored lowest against the criteria will be provisionally selected for redundancy. You should write to them informing them and inviting them to a meeting. Give at least 48 hours’ notice of the meeting. 
     
  • The employee has the right to be accompanied at this meeting by a union representative or a colleague.  
     
  • Reassure the employee no decision has been made and the meeting is to discuss their scoring/provisional selection.
     

Step 9 – Consultation and follow up

  • Meet with the employees individually to discuss their score, how it was reached, discuss alternative roles and listen to any comments the employee might make.
     
  • After the meeting follow up with any suggestions to avoid redundancy and any comments made about their score. Repeat the meeting if anything new arises.
     

Step 10 – Meet again to confirm the outcome 

  • If the employee is to be made redundant, then write to the employee to invite them to another meeting. If nothing has changed, inform the employee they have been selected for redundancy and go through the redundancy package. 
     
  • Write to the employee confirming the decision to dismiss them on the grounds of redundancy. Confirm the termination date and the redundancy payment.
     
  • The employee has the right to appeal – you must inform them of this and the timelines involved.
     

Step 11 – Appeal

  • If the employee appeals, the appeal should be held by someone other than who dealt with the earlier meetings, and more Senior. 

Conclusion 

The figures are clear that the number of businesses supported by the furlough scheme has reduced over time with the easing of lockdown restrictions, however there are still many businesses that are far from their position prior to the pandemic and must now take steps elsewhere. Employers who are considering redundancies are well advised to tread carefully and ensure a fair and reasonable procedure is followed. Failure to do so could result in costly claims.
 
Whilst the above provides a brief overview of the key steps involved in a redundancy procedure, it is vital that any business embarking on potential redundancies seeks advice from a qualified HR Advisor. Keep in mind that the process may differ slightly from the above depending on if your redundancy is “pool” or “non-pool” and, as briefly touched on above, there will be additional steps involved in the event of “collective redundancy” consultation.

Our advisors are on hand to support you though the appropriate process step-by-step. Email hr@skaltd.co.uk or call 01427 420 403 and one of the team will be happy to help.


Look after your back!

Next week is Back Care Awareness Week (4-8 October).

Backs… we’ve all got one, and we can tend to take them for granted… standing, sitting, stretching, pulling, pushing, walking, running (well maybe some of us!), then one day we realise how important they are.

Consisting of vertebrae (bones), disks, nerves and the spinal cord, our backs:

  • Support the weight of our body, helping us to walk, twist and move
  • Allow flexible movement while protecting vital organs and nerve structures
  • Connect different parts of our musculoskeletal system
  • Contain the spinal cord which carries messages between our brain and muscles
  • They’re even a shock absorber! 

Our back are in use every day, and without care, daily wear and tear can ultimately lead to long term health issues.

Back pain is the world’s leading cause of human disability and accounts for a quarter of UK sickness absence. It can affect all of us at some point and for some it becomes a chronic condition.

This year’s Back Care Awareness Week is concentrating on working from home, but it’s important to remember good manual handling practices in the workplace too.

Working from home

Over the last 18 months many of us have been working from home, so it’s important to ask yourself the following (this applies to your employees too):

  • Have you carried out a DSE assessment of your home set up?  
  • Are you sat in an awkward position? 

Unless you have a home office it is likely that you will be adapting home furniture which, if it’s set up correctly, is fine, BUT if you are sat at the edge of your bed balancing your laptop on your knee, then this is not suitable. If you are standing up and feeling aches, then it’s time to address your set up!   

There are many simple fixes to apply including the use of cushions to adjust your height, the purchase of a fold up table to rest your laptop, keyboard, and mouse – you don’t have to build an extension and create a full office suite:

  • When sitting, rest your feet flat on the floor, if you need a foot support – use a cushion or a pile of books to rest your feet on. 
  • Make sure you are looking straight at the screen and not twisted, if you need to adjust the height, use a cardboard box or books again (not the cushion this time) 
  • Above all, take regular breaks from the sitting position and walk about – walk and talk when you are on the phone, go make a brew – promote circulation.

Not perfect or permanent solutions, but they all help.

Manual Handling

If your daily work involves a lot of manual handling, make sure a Manual Handling Assessment has been carried out. 

Can you introduce mechanical aids to eliminate the manual handling? 

Can the workplace layout be improved to reduce distances items need to be carried? 

Above all, make sure you know how to carry out Manual Handling using the correct techniques. Training is vital. Depending on the nature of the work, this could be formal training in your workplace specific to your role, or e-learning online awareness may be all that is required. 

Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling heavy loads can help prevent injury and avoid back pain.

Check out these safe lifting and handling tips, recommended by the Health and Safety Executive:

Think before you lift

Plan the lift. Where is the load going to be placed? Will help be needed with the load? Is there equipment you could use, such as a hoist, that could help with the lift?

Remove obstructions, such as discarded wrapping materials. For long lifts, such as from floor to shoulder height, consider resting the load midway on a table or bench to change your grip on it.

Keep the load close to the waist

Keep the load close to the waist for as long as possible while lifting to reduce the amount of pressure on the back.

Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body. If closely approaching the load is not possible, try to slide it towards the body before trying to lift it.

Adopt a stable position

Your feet should be apart with 1 leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it’s on the ground).

Be prepared to move your feet during the lift to maintain a stable posture. Wearing over-tight clothing or unsuitable footwear, such as high heels or flip flops, may make this difficult.

Ensure a good hold on the load

Where possible, hug the load close to the body. This should help you make a stronger and more solid lift than gripping the load tightly with the hands only.

Do not bend your back when lifting

A slight bending of the back, hips and knees at the start of the lift is preferable to either fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees – in other words, fully squatting.

Do not bend the back any further while lifting

This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.

Do not twist when you lift

Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent.

Keep your shoulders level and facing the same direction as the hips. Turning by moving your feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.

Look ahead

Keep your head up when handling the load. Look ahead, not down at the load, once it has been held securely.

Move smoothly

Do not jerk or snatch the load as this can make it harder to keep control and increases the risk of injury.

Know your limits

Do not lift or handle more than you can easily manage. There’s a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If you’re in doubt, seek advice or get help.

Lower down, then adjust

Put the load down and then adjust. If you need to position the load precisely, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.

One of our Senior H&S Advisors has produced a Manual Handling Extended Toolbox Talk video. Watch it for free on our YouTube channel

Back strengthening exercises

Something we should all do irrespective of working from home or the office is back exercises – it is important to strengthen our back muscles to help our back do its job.

Strong back muscles can protect your spine and prevent back problems. 

Try to do back-strengthening and stretching exercises at least twice a week.

Typical exercises include:

  • Bridges
  • Knee to chest stretches 
  • Lower back rotational stretches 
  • Pelvic Tilts

Exercises like planks strengthen the core (abdominal, side, and back muscles) to give your spine more support. Other protective measures include:

  • Losing weight, if needed (excess weight strains your back)
  • Maintain good posture

Healthy Diet

There are many foods which help keep your spine healthy and strong:

  • Salmon
  • Dairy products
  • Fruits
  • Avocados

If you have any concerns regarding your back, do seek advice from your GP before they get any worse.  Back pain can affect your ability to enjoy life. Look after yours! 

Need Manual Handling training? SK Training can deliver this and many other courses wherever you are in the country. Email training@skaltd.co.uk or call 01427 420 405 to find out more.


Fire safety matters

As the weather gets colder and the night start to draw in, many of our thoughts are turning to heat. And as Fire Safety Month closes, it’s worth thinking about where your business or premises’ highest risk areas are, and putting into place a process for dealing with those thoughts.

First and foremost must be a Fire Risk Assessment. Recent years have shown, with many unfortunate events in the world of industry, warehousing and construction, that fire is a very real risk for all buildings and all businesses. Not only that fire can kill and destroy buildings in their entirety, but that fire safety is a complex matter and should be dealt with by competent and qualified persons. 

We’ve published plenty on the subject, lots to keep you all occupied with a bit of light reading on a gloomy autumn night. Please have a read of it, and keep an eye for more updates as and when they come in.

Make time to save lives (Fire Door Safety Week)
Fire safety in the post-Covid workplace

But as ever, we’re here to help, and with that in mind we’ve put together the following handy list to help you consider what you need to do.

Step One – Have a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment carried out
Step Two – Complete actions listed within
Step Three – Regularly review
 

So, what about those actions? 

Well, the vast majority of the actions we find when visiting premises are among the following. Simple enough to resolve, easy to complete.

  • PAT Testing – from just 75p per item (plus initial site attendance fee) this is an easy way of identifying where an appliance might be faulty and thus have the potential to cause an electrical fire.
  • Fire Extinguishers – which should be inspected on a regular basis to ensure they are situated where they should be, and haven’t been tampered with. This is easy enough to do in house, but it’s important that they are serviced by a competent engineer on an annual basis who will advise when replacement extinguishers are due – everything has a shelf life. 
  • Fire Alarm Systems and Emergency Lighting – again, it’s easy enough to implement regular testing in house and it’s important to ensure this is being completed. Set up a log book, set up a regular time for it to be carried out. But also ensure you’ve got a competent engineer coming out to complete an annual discharge test of your emergency lights, and servicing your fire alarm system. 
  • Fire Door Audit – how can you be sure that all of your fire doors are going to protect you and your premises in the event of a fire? Where intumescent strips are damaged, glass is cracked, or safety devices aren’t functioning, the risk only gets higher. An inspection carried out by a competent person will identify where any remedial works might be required. 
  • Fire Warden Training – this is compulsory for all organisations, and detailed in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005). It’s an open course our Training department delivers as an open course or at your premises, and aims to provide your employees with a basic awareness of good fire prevention management, the different types of fire extinguisher, and most importantly, gives them the confidence to take the lead in an emergency to facilitate building evacuations.
    Find out more on our Training Courses page.

That’s the overview for pretty much every organisation out there, but what if you’ve got gas fired heaters, ductwork throughout your premises, sprinkler systems, chemical fire suppression, or not sure if you’ve got the right kind of fire alarm system for the type of work being carried out? Give us a call to discuss your requirements, and we’ll be only too happy to help where we can.

For more advice or for a free no-obligation quote, contact SK Compliance on 01427 420 404 or email compliance@skaltd.co.uk and #oneoftheteam will be happy to help.