'Speak up if safety is at risk'

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, safety reps can play a key role in encouraging and supporting members to report incidents

With the fast-moving nature of the crisis and increased pressure on nursing staff everywhere, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting just how important it is for members to report incidents and raise concerns.

“If managers don’t know about the issues nursing staff are facing then they can’t make changes,” says Denise McLaughlin, Chair of the RCN UK Safety Reps Committee. “As safety reps, we often find that when we approach managers with issues that we know members are worried about, the response we get is ‘well, it hasn’t been reported so it can’t be a big problem.'

“At the moment, we know lots of members are worried about personal protective equipment (PPE). But if there is no record of instances where members’ safety is at risk, for example through not having access to the right PPE, then it’s difficult to show the extent of the problem.”

Denise adds: “It is always important to report incidents through the proper channels, using your employer’s incident reporting system. With COVID-19 presenting unique challenges, ensuring all members are safe at work is essential, and reporting incidents is such a crucial part of that.”

Chair of RCN UK Safety Reps Committee Denise McLaughlin

Denise McLaughlin

Denise says the reasons that prevent members from reporting incidents may well be amplified in the current climate.

“We know one of the major factors is time,” says Denise. “It takes time to complete an incident report and sometimes nursing staff may feel that they don’t get a meaningful response back. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for safety reps to remind members that it is worthwhile to report incidents.

“Another reason that we sometimes hear, is that nursing staff are discouraged from reporting by managers. The RCN is clear that staff should never be discouraged or harassed for reporting incidents and members should speak to their local safety rep or steward for advice, or call RCN Direct, if they feel this is happening.”

Denise adds: “I think it’s helpful to suggest that staff think of incident reporting as being in a similar vein to the NMC Code and the principle that if something isn’t reported, it didn’t happen. It’s also about protecting patient safety.

“We know that registered nurses have a duty under the NMC Code to speak up if patient safety is at risk. Therefore, all near misses and incidents should be reported appropriately to protect both staff and their patients.”

It's helpful to think of incident reporting as being in a similar vein to the NMC Code and the principle that if something isn’t reported, it didn’t happen

‘You’re not alone’

Denise says that although members should be reporting incidents themselves, they can seek support from safety reps on what to report, and how and when to do this. If a member has concerns about PPE, safety reps can also signpost them to the RCN’s recently published guidance on how and when to raise concerns about this.

Denise emphasises that, if they need it, safety reps should be seeking support too. “We know that, as with other reps, safety reps are under increased pressure at the moment,” says Denise. “My message to safety reps is, do what you can but don’t put too much pressure on yourself.  

“Your local RCN officer is there to support you. RCN offices may be closed but you can call your local officer or contact them by email if you need advice or if you don’t know how to approach an issue. They may also be able to offer organisations additional support.

“The RCN has also developed an online COVID-19 resource for reps that can be accessed through the RCN’s online learning portal or the RCN Reps Hub. Please use this to find out the latest information and advice.”

My message to safety reps is, do what you can but don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Denise says safety reps can also contact their committee member for support and to let them know about the issues they’re facing. 

“With everything moving at such a fast pace, we don’t know exactly what people need and how much they’re struggling,” says Denise. “But it’s important that safety reps are feeding that information in so we can make sure we’re addressing these issues, and that the committee is in turn also feeding that information into the Trade Union Committee and RCN Council.”

Denise adds: “We know that a lot of our safety reps are feeling stretched but please don’t forget that you have added protection under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Employment Rights Act. 

“Safety reps are entitled to time off as necessary to carry out their role and I would hope that organisations would see the work of safety reps as even more critical during the current circumstances. However, you must look after yourself too so please, seek support and advice when you need it. Speak to your committee member, your local officer or fellow RCN reps. You are not alone.”

RIDDOR reporting

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013 and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations Northern Ireland 1997 require employers to report certain cases of work-related exposures, diseases and fatalities. 

The RCN believes if a member of health care staff contracts COVID-19 while working in clinical practice where they have been exposed to patients with COVID-19, employers should submit a RIDDOR report. Under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations, safety reps have a right to access this information and if it is not made available to them, for example through the local health and safety committee, they can request to see it. 

Safety reps can find further guidance on RIDDOR reporting on our online COVID-19 resource for reps. Use your MyRCN details to log into our online learning portal or use the link in the RCN Reps Hub.

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