Lunch n’ Learn with Abraham Blay, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust is an NHS foundation trust based in London, which specialises in mental health.
In this in-depth interview, Abraham Blay, Regional Health and Safety and Fire Manager at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, shares his views and experiences with our Managing Director, Nikki Sammé on how the Trust has coped with new health and safety challenges over the last 18 months. He describes how they have leveraged AssessNET to maintain compliance and discharge their statutory responsibilities effectively.
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, also known as SLaM, is an NHS Foundation Trust based in London, England, which specialises in mental health. SLaM are the only mental health trust in the UK to have their own biomedical research centre, hosted jointly with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at Kings College London, with the aim of translating scientific developments into new ways of screening, detecting, treating and preventing mental illness.
SLaM works in partnership with Riskex, to manage their health and safety risks including DSE, Fire, Audits and Risk Assessments.
NS: Can you tell me a bit about your responsibilities at SLaM?
AB: I’ve worked at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) for the last five years, however my background in health and safety goes back for longer than 20 years. I first encountered AssessNET when working in a previous role for Livability eight years ago. There are two main aspects to my role – general health and safety and fire. Ultimately, my role is to ensure that our organisation always remain compliant with health and safety legislation and ensuring that our people are fully trained and have the tools and knowledge to keep our staff, patients and visitors safe whilst on our sites.
NS: Going into more detail, what are your key day-to-day activities and how do you rely on the AssessNET platform to help you manage these?
AB: There are five key facets of health and safety management that I look after on a day-to-day basis – Risk Assessments, Fire Safety, Internal Audits, DSE and Health & Safety Policy Management.
A significant amount of my time is spent on ensuring we have suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments – as you can imagine, we have many different risks, and the associated assessments need to be adapted to specific wards, operations and patients with a diverse set of needs.
My role in this process is to oversee these assessments, making sure they are appropriate and detailed as well as in-date. I use the action management tools within AssessNET to ensure tasks are completed on time and there are no outstanding activities or gaps within our safety management plan. I also use the reporting tools to provide data for the executive board to give them the assurance that there are suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments in place.
Internal Health and Safety Audits
I also look after our health and safety audits which take place annually for all our wards and community teams. My team of advisors and I conduct these audits, using the AssessNET audit module to record outcomes and allocate any tasks that arise from the audits. As AssessNET has a mobile app, we are able to carry out assessments efficiently as we are doing site walkarounds using iPads.
Fire Safety Management
We have recently migrated our Fire Risk Assessments from a paper-based process to AssessNET. This has proven a considerable time-saving initiative, since the system has a task manager to automatically track workflow action management.
We have also moved our DSE assessments onto the AssessNET platform. We have over 5,500 staff as well as contractors who also do DSE assessments for us. A challenge of ours has been how we ensure everyone completes their DSE assessments, this has led to us executing a number of campaigns and promotions to encourage our staff to complete the assessments and then follow up with them to ensure they have completed the actions highlighted.
The final area of compliance we use AssessNET to manage is our policies, we have been migrating them from our intranet over to the document management feature of AssessNET. This is useful as when our staff are carrying out assessments and audits, they can easily see our policies, procedures and related guidance.
NS: What are the biggest risks at SLaM? And how do you manage them?
AB: As a mental health hospital, one of our key focuses is ligature risk management. A number of our patients have suicidal ideation, we need to demonstrate that we have suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments to support them, in order to minimise the risks. It has been the biggest challenge I face, and we continue to learn. Some of our patients are always ahead of the game, we put systems in place, and they constantly need updating as patients come up with other inventive ways to commit suicide. On top of creating and updating bespoke Risk Assessments, we also support our teams to ensure they are able to understand the ligature management action plans and also work with our Estates team to address new challenges as they arise.
Aside from ligature risk, another key area of risk is fire safety. Our key risk management actions include always ensuring we have sufficiently trained fire wardens and well-serviced fire alarms; we have very robust systems in place so we can stay on top of it.
We regularly receive written guidance from NHS England regarding the latest risk management ideas and “Lessons Learned” from other Trusts.
NS: Can you share your experiences of how you’ve engaged your employees in thinking and acting safely through each stage of the pandemic? What challenges did you have?
AB: High quality and regular internal communications have been key to effectively engaging our people to think and act safely. We have an excellent information management team, our comms team put out all the necessary information that we need to distribute downstream. We carry out live broadcasts to all of our teams, as well as regularly producing internal newsletters, emails, noticeboards and more. Getting information to the relevant teams is very important and we do that effectively. This was essential when transferring information about topics such as vaccination and the importance of it, especially to those who had reservations about it. As part of this we understand that we need to address specific concerns on an individual basis and so proactively reaching out to understand these and responding empathetically was enormously important to make people feel listened to and supported – this, in turn, helps them to engage positively with us. With the changes coming in next year to make vaccination mandatory for all NHS workers, we are glad to be on top of it and engaging our teams.
NS: Did you have to make significant changes to your Risk Assessments as a result of the pandemic?
AB: Yes, we had to make a lot of changes. The situation was dynamic, there were many updates and constantly changing guidance that we had to take onboard. For example, we started with the two-metre rule for social distancing, which then changed to 1.5 metres – although we decided to stick with the two metres. The types of masks that can be used for different jobs constantly changed, for example, the masks necessary for resuscitation would be different than those needed for nurses doing aerosol-generating activities, so we had to take all this on board and constantly update our Risk Assessments and method statements, in line with changing guidance.
We also needed to evaluate how we work with our contractors as well as patients and the public who enter our sites and adapt our systems to accommodate them. We needed to engage them with our safety protocols, make sure they understood they are entering a healthcare facility with many vulnerable people and therefore needed to adhere to stricter measures than other industries.
NS: So, moving away from the pandemic now, looking over your extensive 20 years in the industry, you must have seen several shifts in the role of a health and safety professional. How would you describe the key changes? And what has been the catalyst behind them?
AB: Over the years there have been a number of changes, perhaps the biggest changes relate to the increased remit of the health and safety function to stretch beyond physical safety into areas related to wellbeing. In the past, health and safety professionals would often work in silos, but now there is a need for increased collaboration with other functions including HR, Union Representatives, Operations, Facilities Management and Occupational Health.
NS: Where do you think health and safety technology has had to change in order to support health and safety professionals, and how do you foresee that changing in the future?
AB: With an increased need to collaborate cross-functionally, we are now more reliant than ever on technology for sharing information and allocating compliance-based tasks to workers and contractors across sites and departments. It is no longer viable to rely on administrative resource to collate information from paper-based processes. With this in mind, it’s already common practice to utilise cloud-based systems that are mobile-friendly, simple to use and importantly, have data analytics and reporting dashboards to provide a real-time view of compliance levels and performance against various metrics. As remits increase, so does the workload – and this means that automation regarding task management is also critical.
The increased complexity regarding governance and the growing legislative obligations of businesses to prove their safety credentials have also increased the reliance on technology to demonstrate compliance to enforcement bodies, external auditors and our wider stakeholder groups.
NS: How do you think technology will need to change going forward to manage health and safety?
AB: Now that we have the capability to store and manage records and assessments digitally, we have the opportunity to mine the rich data that has been collated and this is where I think technology will need to continue to evolve. Right now, we can make data-driven decisions by filtering and interrogating the data ourselves. However, emerging enhancements in BI (Business Intelligence) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) will transform how we as health and safety professionals make decisions as we will be supported with real-time guidance based on trends in data. An example of how I envisage this new capability manifesting itself includes technology automatically alerting users and providing guidance if a trend in specific incident types is identified. This type of capability will not only provide significant efficiencies, but also improve overall safety performance.
NS: How have you tackled the increased risks related to home working arrangements?
AB: We have had to revaluate our lone working Risk Assessments, as well as provide a number of safety devices to support them while they work remotely. This extends to the equipment they need to work effectively, both technology and physical equipment and furniture. DSE technology has been key in helping us to evaluate risks and associated actions for workers at an individual level.
By evaluating the feedback that we received from staff, we realised we needed to increase our support to them regarding stress management. Working remotely can negatively affect some people, their stress levels can be high because they’re not engaging with other teams so in terms of welfare, we needed to safely bring them together so they could engage with their peers and talk about how best to support each other.
We also stepped up our support of line managers by providing additional training and coaching for early recognition of stress and burnout.
NS: Let’s talk about the recent announcement that NHS sites will require mandatory vaccination for all staff. What challenges do you foresee SLaM experiencing regarding workers who are anxious about vaccinations?
AB: Firstly, we continue to work hard at supporting our people with guidance and information to help them feel more informed and comfortable with vaccinations, to optimise vaccination rates. This support has been particularly important for workers in BAME groups. Some examples of how we are doing this include organising for Asian and Black doctors and nurses to speak to workers of the same ethnicity and share first-hand experiences to ease anxieties.
We have a very robust business continuity plan in place. This plan demonstrates in numbers how many staff we will potentially lose when the legislation comes into force, and how we will fill that gap. It is a challenge, but we have been looking at intelligence to understand the extent and functions likely to be impacted. We are continually assessing how we make sure we have enough resource to deliver our service effectively and safely, and to this end, we are now collaborating with other local healthcare facilities in what we’re calling the “South London Partnership”, so that we can share resources to deliver our services.
NS: And finally, how do you see the role and skillsets of health and safety professionals changing in the future?
AB: As collaboration between health and safety and other functions continue to increase, there is a growing need for health and safety professionals to demonstrate better communication and influencing skills with wider stakeholder groups, as well as a more analytical mindset when it comes to interrogating data. This will require us to embrace technology even more than we have done in recent times. We have already seen health and safety increase in its strategic and operational importance and so in my view, our profession will increasingly become business managers, not just compliance managers.