Five tips for making your public protection service more resilient in difficult times
When the Coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, local authority public protection officers, who usually deal with issues such as food safety, trading standards and public hygiene complaints, were suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of demand for their services. They were called on to make sure that only essential shops were trading, prevent price gouging and the sale of substandard personal protection equipment, and to make sure that businesses were observing social distancing.
At the same time, many public protection team members were off work because they were shielding, had contracted the virus, or had to self-isolate after coming into contact with an infected person. This created big backlogs of cases, which were exacerbated by lockdowns that made it more difficult for inspection teams to get into premises.
The experience of the pandemic has shown how important it is to have resilient public protection services that can continue to ensure our communities’ health and safety even during difficult and demanding times.
Here are five ways that you can create more resilience in your public protection services.
Prioritise your casework : A triage system will make sure that you’re taking care of the most important cases, while placing less urgent ones in a backlog. When you’re creating your prioritisation criteria, consider three factors. Firstly, make sure that your decisions are informed by the regulatory landscape for public protection, which includes several Acts and regulations, as well as codes of practice. During the pandemic, the government has issued frequent guidance updates that have had a major influence on decision-making for public protection officials.
Secondly, use the risks associated with different cases to set your priorities. For example, in the case of food safety, you might want to prioritise high-risk premises where a lot of people might be exposed to harm, or where there has been previous cause for concern (such as incidences of food poisoning). In the case of housing, you might choose to prioritise reports of housing conditions that are putting people in immediate danger.
Finally, you should always prioritise callouts involving vulnerable people.
By taking these factors into account, you can quickly and consistently tackle the most pressing issues first, while making sure that the most vulnerable citizens are always protected.
Keep track of backlogs : It’s understandable that, in times of high demand, you’ll run a backlog of service requests and even pre-planned inspections. This could be because businesses were closed due to the pandemic and couldn’t be accessed; or certain requests from the public were de-prioritised; or employees had been redeployed to more acute situations.
Keeping careful track of backlog cases will mean that you can brief colleagues accurately and estimate the time and cost to clear a backlog. You can then assess your options for doing so within your available budget more easily and accurately, for example by recruiting and managing temporary staff or by finding a provider to do so for you.
Cross-train so that you can redeploy your people : Developing multi-skilled team members, for example people who can work across food, environment, noise and nuisance callouts, will give you the flexibility you need to respond to surges in demand and ensure that you make the most of the resources you have available.
Environmental health officers are qualified to work across categories but there are professional requirements for competency in each category and they tend to specialise. They need training and recent, relevant experience in multiple disciplines to be able to manage several different types of public protection issues.
Recruit the right people : Recruiting is time consuming and expensive. So, when you’re looking for environmental health, trading standards or technical officers, make sure you get it right first time with accurate job descriptions, engaging job adverts and an efficient and fair selection process.
Make the best use of technology : You may be able to avoid making time-consuming site visits altogether by using technology such as live video streaming to inspect premises, and by doing online research (reviewing staff training records or previous food safety reports, for example) to determine the danger posed by a possible public protection issue.
When you do decide that there’s enough evidence to justify and prioritise one of your officers making an inspection, you can use technology to digitally capture and analyse evidence such as video, images, audio and text data, to ensure that you efficiently and accurately record the visit’s outcomes.
The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us how important it is to have resilient public services that can respond to sudden shocks. By following these five tips, you can create a more flexible, responsive public protection service for your local community that continues to keep it safe despite the increased demands.
To find out how our public protection team can provide additional expert resource and make your service more resilient, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.