- Risk assessments are an essential health and safety tool: They ensure a safe, productive and supportive working environment for employees with cancer.
- Consider all aspects of an employee’s situation: Evaluate job demands, cancer type, treatment stage, work environment and reasonable adjustments.
- Continuous monitoring and adaptation are necessary: Regularly review risk assessments with employees to ensure they are still relevant and that accommodations are still suitable.
It is estimated that there are nearly 900,000 individuals of working age living with cancer in the UK. For many of these people, continuing to work is important in contributing to their financial wellbeing, sense of purpose and social life. Supporting these employees can be challenging for employers, who must abide by cancer and employment law, while managing the needs of the business and avoiding overstepping personal boundaries. One tool that can help employers to achieve this is risk assessment. In this article, we discuss risk assessments for employees with cancer, explaining what they are, why they are necessary and when to conduct them. We will also look at possible content for a risk assessment and factors to consider when identifying risks.
What is a risk assessment?
Risk assessments involve systematically identifying and evaluating potential hazards in the workplace, how they may cause harm, and the steps that you can take to mitigate them. Risk assessments are a vital component of health and safety management, as well as compliance with the law, and are an essential tool for businesses.
Why are risk assessments necessary for employees with cancer?
Cancer and cancer treatments can introduce various physical, psychological and environmental challenges that might impact an individual’s ability to perform their job safely. Risk assessments can help to ensure their safety, wellbeing and ability to continue working in a supportive environment.
By conducting risk assessments, employers can identify potential hazards, assess the associated risks and implement appropriate measures to reduce those risks. This process helps create a safer work environment and reduces the chances of negative outcomes including accidents, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigations or fines. It also supports employees with cancer in maintaining their productivity and overall quality of life.
Factors to consider when doing a risk assessment
For a risk assessment to be effective, it must provide a comprehensive analysis of the employee’s unique circumstances. Within a risk assessment, you need to answer the following questions:
- What are the hazards?
- Who might they harm and how?
- What are you already doing to control the risks?
- What further actions or adjustments are required?
- Who needs to carry out these actions/adjustments?
- What is the deadline for the implementation of these actions/adjustments?
To help you do this effectively, consider the following factors:
Nature of the role: Assess how the employee’s tasks and responsibilities might impact their medical condition and treatment. This should include not only the physical but psychological demands of the work.
Cancer type and treatment stage: Different cancers and treatment stages can lead to varying levels of physical and mental challenge. Consider the potential side effects of treatments, such as fatigue, weakened immune system and mobility issues.
Work environment: Evaluate the workplace layout, equipment and conditions, to identify potential hazards that could exacerbate an employee’s condition.
Support systems: Consider the availability of medical support, counselling services and flexible work arrangements that could contribute to the employee’s wellbeing and ability to carry out their work.
Employee’s preferences: Communicate with the employee to understand their comfort levels, needs and any specific adjustments they require.
When to do risk assessments for employees with cancer
For employees with cancer, their situation can change quickly and/or significantly. Their physical and emotional health, capabilities and needs are unlikely to stay consistent as they navigate each stage of their diagnosis, treatment and recovery. In addition, working environments and conditions can also change. Businesses can move premises, for example, or implement new processes. As such, employers may need to conduct or review pre-existing risk assessments at several intervals.
As soon as an employee diagnosed with cancer discloses this information to you, initiate a risk assessment to identify immediate adjustments or accommodations you can make. It can be beneficial to do this in collaboration with the employee if they are willing, as they’ll be able to give you an honest insight into their symptoms, limitations and preferences for support.
During cancer treatment
Regularly assessing the employee’s needs and capabilities as they go through cancer treatment will enable you to swiftly address changing circumstances, discuss potential side effects and evaluate risks. For example, chemotherapy can damage an individual’s immune system and make it harder for the body to fight infection. Therefore, a risk assessment might highlight the need to increase the frequency of office cleaning and organise employee training about how to prevent the spread of germs. A risk assessment can also help in supporting someone going through chemo by identifying their unique needs and informing adjustments and assistance you can implement in the workplace.
Returning to work
Managing an employee off sick with cancer includes preparing for their return to work. Before an employee returns to work after a period of sickness absence, you should review their condition in consultation with them, and determine if you need to make any adjustments to facilitate a smooth transition back to work. You should also consider any changes that have occurred in the workplace while the employee has been on leave, and if these pose any additional risks. For instance, if the employee desks have been moved from the ground floor to the first floor, you must take into account the impact that climbing the stairs might have on the employee’s energy levels.
Reasonable adjustments to reduce risk for employees with cancer
By law, employers should explore and implement reasonable adjustments for employees with cancer to minimise risks. These adjustments might include:
Flexible work hours: Allowing the employee to adjust their working hours to accommodate medical appointments or periods of increased fatigue. This could also include increasing the number of breaks they take during their working day.
Remote work: Permitting working from home when appropriate, to reduce exposure to infections in the workplace and limit commutes.
Physical adjustments: Providing ergonomic equipment, modifying the workspace layout, or offering accessible facilities if the employee has limited mobility, decreased stamina or physical pain.
Reduced workload: Temporarily reducing the employee’s workload or responsibilities during periods of intensive treatment or recovery.
Emotional support: Offering counselling services or employee wellbeing initiatives to help them manage emotional and psychological impact of cancer.
Reviewing risk assessments for employees with cancer
Regularly reviewing risk assessments is crucial to ensure that they are still relevant to the employee’s circumstances and meet their current needs. Maintain open lines of communication with the employee so that they can keep you up to date on their condition, and how it is impacting their physical and mental health.
Set up a schedule for formal risk assessment reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of any adjustments and make necessary updates. As the employee’s condition evolves, adjust the risk assessment and accommodations accordingly, being sure to identify any new risks alongside changes to existing ones.
If you’d like help in supporting employees affected by cancer at every stage, consider Perci Health. Through our virtual care clinic, we connect employees with cancer specialists who assist with the practical, emotional and physical challenges of cancer. Find out more about how our employer programme works. Individuals can also sign up for a Perci Health account to connect with leading cancer experts from the comfort of their own home.
‘Work and cancer’, macmillan.org.uk, August 2023, https://be.macmillan.org.uk/be/s-1068-work-and-cancer.aspx