Jo Heselton – Arco safety, health and environmental manager

28th Apr


Jo, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I’ve been working at Arco for just over eight years, but I have been in the health and safety industry for over 30, working in a variety of sectors, including hospitality, retail and distribution.

What are your specific responsibilities at Arco?

My main priority is to ensure Arco provides a healthy and safe working environment for all employees, workers and visitors to our premises as well as ensuring we comply with our environmental obligations and support our wider sustainability strategy. I’m responsible for providing safety, health and environmental (SHE) leadership to the business and managing all aspects of legal compliance, whilst ensuring Arco retains certification to ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 environmental and health and safety management standards.

Most notably, in the last few years, I’ve taken responsibility for leading our internal Covid-19 response, by providing expertise and advice during the pandemic. My team and I have been working to ensure all our colleagues were safe, our sites remained open and we kept everyone up-to-date during the regular changes to Government guidance during the pandemic.

What’s the best thing about working for Arco?

When I started my career in health and safety over 30 years ago, I used to contact Arco for advice. I remember the days of having the Big Red Book on the side of my desk. I now work for that company. A family-owned business whose core purpose is to keep people safe at work. As a safety professional, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Arco is a company well known for helping to keep people safe at work – tell us more about how Arco looks after its own people.

Arco really cares and values its colleagues. Everything we do is about keeping people safe at work. Like any other workplace we ensure we have reduced the risks and that we have processes in place to manage them – we constantly refer back to PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). Our robust health and safety management systems focus on continually improving and raising our own standards. But it’s not just about health and safety, its welfare and the importance of good communication and engagement.

Arco is never afraid of making the right decisions for its colleagues and their families. When something as big as Covid-19 arises it’s about having the right team in place to build policies and procedures which support your colleagues.

At the peak of the pandemic, psychological distress across the nation hit an all-time high, with many workers facing grief, forced isolation, an economic slump and unfamiliar ways of working. Our team was separated from each other physically, with parts of our business remaining open to support frontline critical workers and the rest of our team working from home. It was important that our people managers supported colleagues and that colleagues supported each other.

Our well-established team was on hand to offer support. For many people this period was very isolating, not seeing colleagues and being alone for long periods. To combat this, many of our colleagues set about finding new ways to keep in touch and maintain levels of engagement by setting up non-work related, fun drop-in sessions hosted by employees teaching colleagues how to cook, play guitar and hosting quizzes.

Our goal was to establish an open dialogue with colleagues and ensure that they had access to all the information they needed and that they felt like they could ask questions openly and that they still felt part of the team.

Why did Arco do so well in managing the pandemic?

Covid-19 was uncharted territory for everyone, as a team we ensured our processes not only reflected the constant changes brought about by the Government’s guidance but also controls that reflected best practice and maintained high levels of controls to keep our colleagues safe. We provided support and advice not just about how to keep safe and prevent the spread of the virus at work but also at home.  

As a business, we are experts in responding to the practical issues which arise from global crises, having supported the Government with Ebola and other similar endemic outbreaks around the world. In this situation, however, we had limited prior experience of this kind of phenomenon, with such a significant change to everyone’s ways of working and had to work hard to ensure we were on top of all guidance and how to implement it.

To achieve this, we focussed a lot on internal communications; we set up wellbeing calls and a Yammer Covid-19 group so that all colleagues could ask anything about Covid-19 and how to deal with it. We shared key pieces of information on our intranet, gave frequent business updates and ensured messages were consistently being led by our managing director and the board.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we know that Arco played a major role in supplying critical PPE to frontline workers, but how did the business keep its own people safe?

Like all businesses that could, we switched to working from home, which we were able to facilitate fully within two weeks. We provided all colleagues working from home with all the equipment necessary to enable them to do this comfortably and safely, including workstations, chairs, monitors and other IT equipment. We also offered guidance on fire safety, slips and trips, trailing cables and wider general guidance on how to make working from home safe.

Our National Distribution Centre had to stay open, as it was critical in distributing PPE and essential products to frontline workers. To make this as safe as possible, we brought in changes to shift patterns to allow longer breaks between shifts so that work areas could be cleaned and to ensure there was minimal crossover with employees on different shifts. Our stores closed for a short while and when they reopened our colleagues were re-trained in the new measures that we had put in place, such as one-way systems, social distancing measures and physical barriers.

What lessons has Arco learned from the pandemic that it can share with other business?

Many colleagues have moved towards hybrid working and like other businesses when the requirement to work from home (if you could) was lifted, we’ve seen a steady increase in our colleagues returning to the workplace and this has enabled us to monitor our ways of working, post pandemic. As we continue to learn to live with Covid-19, it’s important not to become complacent.

Ultimately, clear communication, accessible resources and support for team members are the key lessons businesses should take away from the pandemic. Each of these points is not enough on its own; clear resources will do your business little good if no one reads them and even the most supported worker cannot be everywhere at once. A combined approach is essential to ensure, in an increasingly hybrid working situation, that open dialogue is pursued and encouraged from a variety of angles. Every business is different and the exact system of support required will reflect that, but it should be at forefront of all businesses priorities.

For so long the focus has been on health and safety but wellbeing of colleagues is paramount. Now is an ideal opportunity to adopt a new mindset for employee engagement.

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