4 Mar 2021

Strategies for enhancing workplace health and safety amid the pandemic

With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging and having a variety of impacts on all sectors, ensuring workplace health and safety is emerging as the defining concern of our time. Even as vaccinations are slated to begin rolling out, the presence of new variants is only indicating that the health and safety of employees, and protecting them from the ravages of viruses, is still a high priority.

In fact, what has become painfully obvious to every organization is that ensuring employee health and wellness is paramount, not just for this year, but likely for several to come.

Therefore, the most important question that safety leaders can ask themselves is how they can manage the impact of Covid-19 and ensure their workplace health. Here are a few strategies to this end:

Embrace remote working, and new roles, as the new normal

With social distancing being one of the primary strategies for reducing infections and ensuring workplace health and safety, enabling employees to work from home has become a viable strategy for most if not all businesses. This decentralization of the workspace does not just affect where EHS professionals work, but also what they do.

Some EHS professionals are using the remote working trend to also expand their roles. They are moving beyond their traditional responsibilities, such as enhancing and inculcating a safety culture, to include getting to grips with data science, industrial hygiene or occupational health. Other professionals are focusing more heavily on employee well-being or ways to enhance remote collaboration. In essence, remote working is serving as a catalyst for EHS professionals to expand their skillset, and this is a development that should be welcomed at all levels.

Acknowledge the challenges of home-based working

Ensuring employee health and safety is not quite as simple as just shifting the workplace from a central location to the dispersed home-offices of one’s workers. A large challenge that safety leaders need to be cognizant of is that most workers will have to confront the issue of ergonomics when working from home.

Many workers may well find themselves without a home office for the purpose of fulltime work and resorting to a kitchen table or couch in their living room. However, without the benefit of ergonomic chairs, that are intended for offices and designed to reduce back and neck strain, there is a risk of the ailments that come with sustained poor posture from sitting hunched over a notebook for hours on end, as well as eyestrain, for example. One way to address this is by offering workers a stipend to upgrade their work environment at home. An ergonomic chair and where possible, larger, second screen have been shown to not only improve posture and stave off back and neck pain, but also improve productivity as well.

But accounting for the right equipment is only half of the solution – without the know-how of a professional ergonomist, it is also important for virtual ergonomic assessments to be made available. These provide the information needed to create a workspace that can stave off musculoskeletal disorders and thus ensure workplace health and safety for each employee.

Use collaborative tools to augment teamwork

Effective remote working has become synonymous with utilizing collaborative software, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, to stay in touch, conduct virtual meetings, and to foster team cohesion. This means that employees and managers alike must get to grips with what may be unfamiliar collaborative software. These tools are just a means to an end – greater teamwork.

Rather than EHS professionals holding regular in person safety meetings where the major issues affecting an organisation’s safety are discussed, these same meetings need to take place virtually. Moreover, virtual briefings are more than check-ins for EHS professionals, they need to be used as the new way to quantify and prioritise safety issues, and formulate strategies to resolve them, with the benefit of team cohesion, from a distance.

Furthermore, EHS professionals can utilize collaborative tools to capture continuous insights on risks from a variety of locations, such as numerous facilities, as well as those travelling for business (as that opens up again). In turn, this will provide safety professionals a far broader picture with which to more effectively ensure greater workplace health and safety for the foreseeable future.

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