COVID’s Silent Workplace Health Threat: Safety Awareness
Many safety experts, including myself, agree that one of the most critical components of an effective safety program and development of a safety culture is awareness. Safety awareness is achieved through many different activities, including routine safety meetings/toolbox talks, timely safety training based on the topic, frequent safety communications from senior leadership. In essence, just like anything else, the more we talk about workplace safety, the higher the awareness.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought about so many challenges, but the question is: How do we get back to basics as it relates to workplace safety? To answer this question, first we must identify some of the challenges the pandemic threw at us from a workplace safety perspective.
Staffing levels are at an all-time low post pandemic. Not many employers can be heard lately saying “I’m so overwhelmed by the number of people knocking at my door for employment opportunities.” Many businesses I work with are struggling as demand for their product or service has increased but they just don’t have the necessary staffing levels. Who is picking up the slack and working longer hours?
Face-to-face communication became almost non-existent. The team safety huddles/toolbox talks went away. The one-on-one hazard specific training for new hires was not happening. Workplace safety observations with immediate feedback were highly unlikely. Are email safety notifications and notices posted on bulletin boards as effective as in-person interaction? I think we all know the answer to that question is - no.
Mental health issues have increased substantially with the added stress and anxiety of the pandemic. There are, however, a lot of free resources/support available, including:
- CDC - Mental Health in the Workplace
- OSHA - Suicide Prevention
- MEMIC Mental Health blog written by Jeremiah LaCross and Jennifer Campbell
So how do we “get back to the basics” when it comes to workplace safety? Here are just a few suggestions. I’m sure you can come up with many more within your organization.
- Re-establish a routine safety meeting/toolbox talk program to get everyone talking about safety on a regular basis. These do not have to be long, drawn-out meetings with PowerPoints and diagrams. Again, the purpose of these meetings is to raise awareness levels. For current policyholders, the MEMIC Safety Director has great resources to support your safety meetings.
Closely monitor overtime to help ensure the extra workload isn’t being placed on a small group of employees. Ensure that the employees working overtime are getting proper supervision and necessary breaks. Refer to OSHA’s Extended/Unusual Work Shifts Guide.
It is important to identify the barriers that keep your operations from returning to “normal”, understand the stresses the pandemic has wrought, and move forward with renewed commitment to safety awareness and culture.
MEMIC policy holders have access to a wealth of online resources to support your safety activities and your safety consultant can help you identify and prioritize safety goals.