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Agenda item

Annual Report on Health and Safety Activities 2019/20-2020/21

To consider the adequacy of the Council’s health and safety arrangements. 


8.1             The report of the Head of Community Services, circulated at Pages No. 102-118, provided a summary of the activities carried out to secure health and safety compliance in the financial years 2019/20 and 2020/21.  Members were asked to consider the adequacy of the Council’s health and safety arrangements.

8.2             The Head of Community Services explained that COVID-19 meant it had not been possible to present this report to the Committee during the previous year, therefore, the current report covered a two year period.  Over the last 18 months, much of the normal health and safety work had been put on hold and the Keep Safe, Stay Healthy Group had ceased operating during the first year but was now operational once again.  A significant number of risk assessments in relation to COVID-19 had taken place over the period which were detailed at Appendix 1 to the report and included emergency rest centres and polling stations for elections.  Over the last six months, the world had begun to open up more and an increasing number of events were being held both on Council-owned and private land; whilst a light-touch approach had previously been taken to smaller events whereby Officers had discussed health and safety with the organiser, due to COVID-19 restrictions the Safety Advisory Group had been meeting on a weekly basis.  COVID-19 was certainly not going away and a risk assessment of the Council Offices had been undertaken the previous week to ensure staff and Members were safe when returning to the building.

8.3             A Member noted the references within the report to mental wellbeing and ongoing concerns about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on staff.  Staff had been seconded from their usual roles and he assumed many would have accrued leave so he was seeking reassurance that had been taken into account.  The Head of Community Services confirmed that the team worked with HR on staff welfare and a range of mental health training had been provided over the last 18 months with staff being encouraged to take leave where possible.  Staff briefings continued to take place on a monthly basis and there was a raft of information available for staff to access on the intranet.  Feedback was received via regular staff surveys suggesting that staff were coping well – that had not necessarily been the case during the early part of the pandemic but it had been picked up and addressed quickly.  Staff welfare was of paramount importance but he was confident the majority of feedback from staff had been positive.  The Head of Corporate Services advised that a lot of work had been done around mental health pre-COVID-19 and the Council had been given a Workforce Wellbeing Charter accreditation where it had been evaluated as ‘excellent’ in five of eight workstreams, one of which was mental health.  Whilst that had been a great foundation moving into the pandemic, there had certainly been more lessons learnt.  For example, Internal Audit staff had been redeployed to the business grants cell and thrust into dealing with challenging cases and calls; that was a similar scenario for staff working in the community cell so resilience training had been put in place to help them deal with the difficult conversations they were having.  The Chair felt this was very positive and wished to thank the staff on behalf of the Committee for their hard work and effort during the pandemic; it was so important to look after staff as much as possible, even more so in the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the pandemic which continued to prevail.

8.4             A Member drew attention to the executive summary, set out at Page No. 102 of the report, which made reference to Tewkesbury Borough Council being committed to the health and safety of all employees, service users and contractors and questioned whether Members should also be included as they did not fit into any of those categories.  The Head of Community Services acknowledged that Members should also be referenced as they had equal status in terms of health and safety.  The Head of Corporate Services advised that it had been raised in another forum that Members felt they would benefit from training in relation to mental health so consideration would be given as to how to involve them going forward.  The Member questioned whether staff had been surveyed about returning to the office and if they wanted to continue to work from home.  In response, the Head of Community Services advised that many teams were already working from home to some extent prior to the pandemic; however, the pandemic had completely changed the situation and the Operational Managers Group had worked with their teams to establish how they wanted to go forward.  The vast majority of staff preferred a combination of working from home and the office and, as long as they were able to deliver the service effectively, managers were being fairly flexible.  It was noted that a new booking system for desks was in place and working well.  The Head of Corporate Services agreed and pointed out the one excellent benefit arising from increased home working was the use of technology such as Microsoft Teams which had been rolled out to staff pre-COVID-19 but had not been well used; that had been the foundation for flexible working and would continue to be used going forward where possible.

8.5             With regard to the Workforce Wellbeing Charter, referenced at Page No. 117 of the report, a Member noted that the Council had achieved either “excellence”” or “achievement” and questioned whether there were more levels and what could be done to bring them all up to “excellence”.  The Head of Community Services confirmed there were other levels and he understood an action plan was in place to progress certain elements further; notwithstanding this, there were some areas where the Council would never achieve “excellence” due to the nature of the organisation.  The Head of Corporate Services undertook to circulate the Charter following the meeting along with the levels and what was required to achieve each one; he confirmed that it had been considered that in all of the circumstances, it was appropriate to remain at the “achievement” level for some elements.

8.6             It was

RESOLVED          That the annual report on health and safety activities 2019/20-2020/21 be NOTED.

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