It’s been a sprawling, unsettling and uncertain time – the kind that only comes around once every hundred years or so.
Lives have been lost, as have livelihoods. Priorities have shifted.
What – if anything – have we learned from COVID-19? At its best, this pandemic has proved to be inconvenient. At its worst, it’s been fatal.
It’s said that crisis brings opportunity. Indeed, the ultimate tragedy would be to learn absolutely nothing from these last few months.
So, when it comes to workplace safety, what can we take away from this situation?
The words “health and safety” have been paired by many people tasked with watching out for the welfare of their co-workers. The phrase has been uttered so frequently that it seems to have lost its meaning over the decades. “Health and Safety” has become a department, or a line in a brochure.
Well, here we are. Turns out the health and safety of the workforce is important after all. We need employees to keep this economic machinery moving. We need them to manufacture, produce, deliver, and generally get stuff done. And when they’re not working, we need them to buy stuff and support businesses and redistribute some wealth. Of course, these workers need to be healthy and safe to achieve these outcomes.
Tragic events can often either hit so close to home that they can be difficult to process or they can seem so far away from us that they can quickly be moved past. One aspect of COVID-19 that is somewhat unique is how widespread the effects are. While there are areas that have been harder hit than others, every country is dealing with the virus – and its impacts – in one way or another. Because it touches so many aspects of our lives, from how we work, to how we do business, to how we eat and drink, to how we socialize, this is an opportunity to think collectively about the current systems we have in place and how we can improve them for the next deadly virus that comes along.
PAUSE TO REFLECT
Some people and businesses have not missed a beat over the last few months. Many workers are much busier than they were before. But the coronavirus has provided many more of us with a chance to slow down and think things through. This means we’ve had a chance to ponder what’s important to us and what we consider to be a safe working environment. We’ve been able to reflect on whether or not we physically even need to be at work. The “rat race” typically affords little opportunity to think much beyond the next meal or the next day. Jammed calendars have kept us moving from place to place. Not so much anymore. Take a breath. Think about it – what matters to you? What people are important to you? What activities are essential to your well being?
GETTING BACK TO IT
We’ve seen a full range of emotions and reactions to opening up the economy again. Some businesses will simply unlock the door and pretend that nothing happened. Others have taken a close look at operations and developed protocols to make conditions safer for employees and customers. This is an excellent time to review occupational health & safety (OHS) plans, and not just those related to the transmission of communicable diseases. If you are going to be working from home, or if you know of others who are, now is a great chance to get to know how to set up an ergonomically designed workspace. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to do a full health and safety audit at your work site, but never got around to it. Safety in the workplace is topical, as it should be. Many workers have heightened concerns about how vulnerable they are at work. Employers can help to allay fears by addressing OHS issues head on.