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Work safety body acts to stop worker shortage ‘sleepwalk’

With today’s announcement that UK job vacancies hit a record high of 1 million, last month, a world professional body has urged employers coping with staff shortages not to ‘sleepwalk’ into a health and safety nightmare.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the global membership organisation for those responsible for safety and health in the workplace, has called for the protection of workers not to be compromised in the drive to maintain productivity levels.

It’s a warning call that puts both workers’ physical safety in the workplace and a possible increase in worker stress and anxiety, with its related threats to workers’ mental health, on alert.

As part of this, IOSH has drawn up a special ‘Checklist’ for those businesses and workers who are currently having to cope with worker shortages:

Worker Shortage Checklist

Resource planning

Have you worked out what resource you need against what you have available for the required tasks? Can you still complete those tasks safely? Understanding how many workers are available, worker skills sets and competency requirements, shift patterns, tasks to be completed and the number of workers required to fulfil a task safely will help you understand your capacity and capabilities with the number of workers available to you.

Policies and procedures

Are these still viable or have they been affected by staff shortages and now need to be revised?

Risk assessments

Are the hazards and risks different now you have a shortage of workers? Do your risk assessments need to be reviewed and updated? Remember to consult with workers.

Safe systems of work/Safe operating procedures

Do these take account of a shortage of workers or do they need to be changed? Can tasks still be completed safely with fewer workers? For example, consider a task that needs two or three people, say, a three person lift. If an organisation now only has one person to complete the task, that person wouldn’t be able to complete the task safely. It’s time to revisit the risk assessment to determine how that task now needs to be carried out.

Cross-training workers

Could it make sense to train workers to carry out different tasks and roles to cover worker shortages?


Checks will be needed on machinery, vehicles, fire systems and for legionella, for example. Have you made it a priority to ensure that all checks (daily, weekly, monthly and annually) are still fulfilled and that there continues to be either no, or limited, risk to workers?

Mental health and wellbeing

Have you considered how staff shortages might impact the mental health of your workers? Along with the pressures of over-working, workers may feel isolation, fatigue, anxiety and stress. How will you manage the potential increase in workload, working hours and lone working, for example, on workers’ mental health? What controls do you have in place?


How are you going to keep your people informed on the worker shortage situation? Do you have a plan? Staff morale will benefit if workers are included in discussions and feel valued, considered and part of the process.


“Worker shortages do not and should not mean worker neglect,” said IOSH’s Ryan Exley.

“Whether organisations are finding it difficult to recruit, or they’re being challenged financially and need to make cuts in expenditure, it’s vital for their business/organisation and their staff that they ensure those who work for them are kept safe,” he added.

“The last thing we want is to see any employer dealing with worker shortages  ‘sleepwalking’ into some health and safety nightmare scenario, where ‘getting by’ with a reduced workforce then morphs into a ‘new normal’ that puts their people in long-term danger.

“Continuing to operate with fewer workers may maximise profits but could build up pressure to cut corners and compromise on safety, seriously damaging workers’ mental health in the meantime.”

IOSH Head of Health and Safety, Ruth Wilkinson, highlighted the need to continue to invest in sound health and safety practice: “There should be no compromise on health and safety, with the prevention of harm and protection of workers being paramount.

“Good risk management practice and control strategies must be in place, while workers must be made aware of the hazards, the risks and the controls,” she added.

“Provide the appropriate training, such as staff inductions, competency requirements and refreshers, making sure staff are aware of the health and safety arrangements and their responsibilities; good communication and awareness is key.

“It’s always important to ensure there’s a planned and risk-controlled approach to prevention, focused on safe people, safe systems, safe workplaces and safe equipment.

“Have relevant arrangements in place for how the risks are to be managed. For  example, occupational driving and road safety policies need to cover suitable and properly maintained vehicles; driver suitability; fitness and training; and also realistic timescales for journeys, to prevent stress or pressure to take risks. It is imperative that the management of risks continues to be implemented to protect people.”

Jeremy Waterfield
Content Officer +44 (0)116 257 3632
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