(Back to) The future of safety

Following up on last year’s predictions

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What COVID-19-related changes or adjustments will “stick”?

Kind of watching things in place right now, I think that a number of things have come out of this. Certainly hygiene on our projects, just overall general hygiene. I think that there’s certainly an adaption and increase in pre-job planning and coordination, so certainly, working closer with the owner, the subcontractors and the other vendors on the project about how they coordinate their activities, making sure that contractors weren’t stacking on top of each other. Just coordination of the project, not only with our owner and our subcontractors, but also our employees. I think there was a marked attempt to increase communication not only from employees on the projects, but also the messages back home as well. For example, sharing information about COVID not only on the projects, but sending information home about best practices, cleaning practices, distancing, resources, and things of that nature.

– Carl Heinlein, Senior Safety Consultant, American Contractors Insurance Group

The change I see that will stick is not really about virtual meetings or the fact that meetings can occur anywhere or any time; it is the point that managers will be more agile. There has been more adversity through the pandemic, and this has allowed managers to shift the way they think about flexibility, empathy and organization. Flexibility is now an important KPI, and managers have allowed their employees to work from home through dogs barking, children screaming and family-involved conversations. Work can still be completed through these distractions, and now it has been widely accepted. Empathy is in tandem with flexibility.

– Tim Page-Bottorff, Senior Safety Consultant, SafeStart

I believe that the pandemic has fundamentally changed how people see work in general, because there are more people working in their bedroom slippers and their housecoat than ever before. It just changes the nature of what work means. Now, it’s not to suggest that that’s necessarily good or bad. It is to suggest that it’s very different. So, the nature and location of work has changed, and I don’t know that it ever goes back. I don’t. I think too many people have figured out that “I can be as or more productive, not into traffic, not going into a building that’s probably not lit and secured to the extent that I’d like it to be and being around people I don’t necessarily want to be around.” So they’ve found this peace and solace being in a place where they feel comfortable and safe. So, it changes the environment of work. From a safety perspective, it also reduces any number of the classic hazards that human beings are exposed to in the more industrial workplace. So, in my house there aren’t near as many biological, chemical, ergonomic, physical, safety or psychosocial hazards as there are outside my house. Not even close. So, the amount of exposure that the people have to hazards in the first place is reduced. Therefore, the risk is reduced. Therefore, the harm’s reduced. Therefore, fewer people will get hurt. So, I think that is one of the significant changes. I don’t believe that it’s going to go back. I don’t see that changing.

– I. David Daniels, Certified Safety Director, President/CEO, ID2 Solutions LLC

I hope that several COVID-related changes are here to stay. For example, employers are paying increased attention to ensuring proper ventilation in workplaces and that their PPE supply is adequate, both in terms of the quantity and quality. These are positive steps.

In line with a new NSC policy, I also think we’ll see an increase in the number of employers who require COVID-19 vaccination for their workers. It is the clearest route to ensuring worker safety and well-being. In fact, an NSC survey found a 35% increase in employee vaccinations when there’s an employer requirement in place. That’s significant progress toward community immunity against COVID-19 transmission, which is estimated to occur when 70%-90% of the population is vaccinated. NSC recently published guidelines to help employers implement vaccination requirements for a safer workplace.

– Lorraine M. Martin, President and CEO, National Safety Council

I think virtual training will be here as part of training where the subject is information and the time is shorter. The benefit is cost savings on travel and convenience for the trainee and instructor, and it is here to stay.

I also found that companies like having me train several locations on a topic via virtual training. Some of these were recorded for the participants. This saves the company money. It allows the smaller location to get the same training as locations in large cities. Almost all are doing short quizzes to verify that the adults learned the material.

As the delta variant cases go down, the workplaces will return to 2019. The barriers will be here for many facilities. I see the end of mask-wearing inside facilities as many companies are seeing 90%-plus vaccinated workers. If places are involving interaction with the public, many are going to wear the mask to prevent their workers from getting sick. The public likes that the workers are wearing masks and these workers would not be a source of the virus.

– John Newquist, Former OSHA Area Director

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how many of us work. As occupational safety and health professionals, that means we have had to adapt how we consider risks and how we can accomplish tasks differently, such as auditing or reviewing workplaces virtually instead of traveling to every location and performing our work live. Changes that will “stick” will include remote work, likely in some hybrid form for us and for our workplaces. That means the risks that workers face will be different, and we will need to consider risks at home and in the office, too. Workplaces such as manufacturing, warehousing, construction and others that have continued in the same facility have to better evaluate infectious disease and psychosocial risks, along with physical risks, and better plan for pandemics. They will likely need to provide COVID screening for some time and continue to consider infectious disease screening. Those workplaces will have to continue to upgrade ventilation and consider new workstation layouts that are less dense.

– Deborah Roy, Immediate Past ASSP President (2020-2021 term ended June 30)

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