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A seat at the table

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown C-suite leaders the value of safety professionals

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Photo: mixetto/iStockphoto

Much about our workplaces has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how safety and health professionals and their work are perceived by their organization’s C-suite.

And rightly so, says Regina McMichael.

“Now we can say, ‘We were part of the superheroes of COVID,’ even though we weren’t health care providers,” said the president of The Learning Factory Inc., a safety education and training company. “Let’s hope we were COVID preventers. For the first time, we can take off this ‘government regulator’ cape and put on a real superhero cape that says we were part of the solution.”

For many industries, especially those with essential workers, the pandemic created numerous safety and health concerns. Communicating the latest guidance on mitigating the spread of the coronavirus has been a key priority for more than a year, along with locating and securing cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and facemasks. In addition, many safety pros helped reimagine workspaces to encourage physical distancing and performed temperature checks at facilities.

Experts say that just as the pandemic hasn’t ended, neither has the impact safety pros are having on the workers they help protect – or the value they exhibit to the people in the C-suite.

Safety speaks, C-suite listens

With COVID-19 still a concern at worksites, executives are taking notice of the importance of their safety teams, said David Michaels, who headed OSHA for more than seven years during the Obama administration.

“The thing I hear from safety directors at middle-sized companies and large corporations is they’ve never had such access to the C-suite, the heads of these organizations, because of COVID-19,” Michaels said during a November webinar hosted by the University of Colorado. “And I think that’s not going to go away. I think there will be more opportunities in the private sector” for safety pros.

“The need for industrial hygienists and experts in not just safety, but health, who understand infection control in workplaces will not go away,” he continued. “Because we’ll see more government action on this, we’ll also see more private-sector action on this.”

So, communication between C-suite executives, employees and safety pros will continue to be critical.

In a June survey conducted by Savanta Inc., an environmental consulting firm, more than 3,900 workers and business leaders in 11 countries – including the United States, Canada and Mexico – were asked about their at-titudes around trust in the workplace and crisis response/management.

Thirty-two percent of the workers said they’d like more communication from management during the pandemic, while 35% of the C-suite executives said a lack of communication was their primary regret.

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