Health & Safety and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Following Orbit’s recent Health and Safety Excellence Awards, we caught up with Jayne Lombardi, Head of Health Safety & Insurance at Orbit, for a Q&A about the importance of health and safety and how the pandemic has placed it firmly under the spotlight.

Why is health & safety crucial to the success of any business, especially within the housing sector?

Businesses that take health and safety seriously are typically organisations that are performing well and demonstrate the highest quality of standards, and are perceived as demonstrating the highest quality as well – so it's not only about the benefit it provides internally, but also the external perception. By demonstrating this high-quality, it provides confidence to customers and colleagues alike.

At Orbit, there's a real sense of caring about what we do amongst our colleagues and a sense of togetherness because ultimately, if we're not going to keep people safe in housing, we don't deserve to be in the housing sector.

This is particularly prudent for our customers as well, many of whom are vulnerable and may need support regarding their own health and safety. So, it is our duty to ensure they're safe.

I think too many businesses have health and safety done to them, not with them.


What challenges has the COVID-19 pandemic created for health & safety, and how have these been overcome at Orbit?

The pandemic has brought numerous challenges, whether that’s been adapting the way in which our colleagues work, or how we interact and support our customers. However, by putting our people and customers at the heart of our considerations, we have been able to overcome these challenges and remain effective in what we do.

Agile working was something we were already encouraging for our colleagues prior to the pandemic, so this put us in a strong position when the lockdown restrictions were introduced and not something that was brand new to us all. Likewise, we knew a clear policy of regular communication would be the best course of action to limit any anxiety across the business and help people to feel as comfortable as possible, whether that was working from home, attending a customer’s home for a repair or starting a new role at Orbit. I think the communications has been a real success through the pandemic and our colleagues and customers have been reassured about it.


How has health & safety changed over the past 10 years?

I think the main changes in health and safety has been engaging everyone involved in a business or organisation to play their role and not simply watch a video on it when they first start a new job.

There is now a greater knowledge and understanding and appreciation for health and safety, and we see this not only with our colleagues, but our customers and suppliers understand why as well.

It's that togetherness that has changed over the years – health and safety is not just one department’s responsibility, but everyone's.


What are the greatest risks for health & safety within the housing sector?

What we don't know. And because of that, it’s imperative we engage all aspects of the business so we know what issues/incidents may arise in the future, so we are prepared.

As a department, we’re integrated throughout the business so we know about what’s being worked on and we get a better understanding of how this might have an impact on the business and our customers.

Not only this, but we interact with our peers across the housing sector, working with external agencies, and other relevant stakeholders so we can horizon scan and navigate through potentially difficult or challenging periods/situations and share best practice.


What impact has Orbit’s partnership with The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) had for the business?

We do not want anyone to have an accident, whether that be at one of our offices or in one of our homes. By partnering with RoSPA, we are giving a reassurance to our customers that our homes are designed to a quality standard with health and safety at the forefront.

We are the first affordable housing provider to adopt RoSPA’s Safer by Design standards which go above and beyond building regulations, and although we are extremely proud of this, it is something we believe in and felt was a necessity for our homes.

Many accidents can be avoided through simple and low-cost design changes, which make the home physically safer by eradicating risks. We know there is a disproportionate number of children that are involved in accidents at homes across the UK, and some of these are fatal accidents. It is these types of accidents we’re aiming to avoid through our work with RoSPA and utilising their expertise alongside our own.

Our homes are amongst the safest on the market and meet the current and future needs of our residents. It is this legacy for our health and safety that we’re aiming to create which will be there for future generations to come.


What are you most proud of your team achieving at Orbit?

Sending people home safe every day to their family. That's why I do what I do.

I don't believe anyone; customer or colleague, should not be able to go home to their families as a result of an interaction with our business. Our team demonstrates dedication, unselfishness, and commitment to keeping our colleagues and customers safe with an unbiased approach and equality that everyone matters.

We have demonstrated year on year, continuous improvement in the way that our business operates safely and how our colleagues are working to a common goal. It is this synergy in our operations that has allowed us, despite the recent lockdowns, to continue operating and remain efficient and effective in what we do.


What will be the focus for Orbit’s health & safety over the next year?

Our focus will be continuing to create a lasting legacy for Orbit’s health and safety that's handed to the next generations to pick up and challenge, innovate and create. That’s what will shape health and safety for the future because it's different technologies, different regulations, and different priorities that need to be considered constantly. We want to drive the standards in the sector and sharing best practice.

There are various upcoming changes in regulation and legislation, such as the building safety bill, that we must ensure we’re prepared for and can remain as a leader in the sector.

Everyone at Orbit knows their part to play when it comes to health and safety, and our goal as a department will always be to maintain that and keep our colleagues and customers engaged and as a priority when it comes to their safety. We will continue to create a safe space where everyone can speak up and be heard when it comes to health and safety concerns.