As the UK government recommends that the public avoids non-essential travel and contact with others to curb the spread of coronavirus following Spain's self-imposed Italy-style lockdown, IOSH is urging its members to 'lead from the front' with strong controls to prevent the spread of the disease, as well as clear contingency plans to maintain business continuity.
Yesterday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK is approaching the 'fast growth part of the upward curve' of the outbreak of the disease, and warned that 'drastic action' is necessary to prevent the number of cases from potentially doubling every five or six days.
He said: 'Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.'
New guidance from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has been published, and sets out the vital role OSH professionals have to play in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
In these times of uncertainty and radical change, employees will look to advisors, managers and business leaders to provide security and clarity of information, and being able to provide credible and consistent advice and communicate effectively and openly with employees within an organisation are important competencies for OSH professionals to possess, explained Tim Eldridge, IOSH vice-president.
'During events like these and other communicable disease outbreaks, where employees may feel anxious or uneasy, letting them know that you have strong controls and contingency plans in place is important in allaying some of their concerns and maintaining business continuity,' he said.
A dedicated section to coronavirus, which will be regularly updated with new advice, sets out a number of areas IOSH believes an organisation should consider when responding to communicable diseases and taking proportionate, preventative measures. These include:
- being clear to workers who feel unwell that they should not be coming into the workplace;
- exploring how your organisation will continue to function if workers, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business;
- developing plans for different working shifts so that staff overlap is kept at a minimum; implementing split site or location operations where feasible; and
- finding ways of planning and modifying processes in the event that large portions of the workforce are absent for a period of time.
Being able to make informed decisions and advise a business on how to respond to crises is a significant part of the safety and health professional’s role, noted Tim, and the success of this lies in good and open communication.
'Involve your workers in the discussion, seek their views and include them in planning and preparations. Think about their health, safety and wellbeing, and ensure you let them know that if they require support, there are clear options available to them,' he said. Other tips include making sure conversations are two-way, so that you are listening to the concerns of employees, and having clear plans and mitigating actions in place to help create a sense of ease and trust within a workforce.
'COVID-19 has made an impact across the globe, and organisations now more than ever must listen to the knowledge and expertise of OSH professionals,' he added. 'By demonstrating professional integrity, empathy and transparency alongside the ability to provide the right advice at the right time in extreme situations, we can all make a positive influence within the workplace and demonstrate our true worth.'