In these unprecedented times, we are navigating uncharted waters. As OSH professionals, our skills and ability to make dynamic risk assessments, help businesses make informed risk-based choices, and protect people have never been more critical.
OSH professionals are currently on the front line, rightly focused on business continuity and protecting people from potential infection. But at this time, it is crucial additional burdens are not placed on health services due to workplace accidents. While we are focused on infection control it is important to keep the right OSH plates spinning to continue to protect workers from the hazards we usually monitor closely. Hospitals are places to be avoided right now, so keep standards high where work has to be undertaken.
- Prioritise essential work. Governments around the world have classified this as there are businesses which must operate to keep essential services moving. For example, manufacturers producing components for hospitals. Also, emergency maintenance or repair, critical work equipment maintenance and safety-critical building management. Non-essential work which can wait or is higher risk should not be undertaken during shut-down. For example, window cleaning and redecoration are non-essential and can wait.
- Do your best. For buildings which are being fully utilised, continue to undertake a daily walk for obvious hazards – do what you can to make what you find as safe as you can. Prioritise fire safety and critical building maintenance such as gas safety, electrical safety and critical services.
- Check flat roofs (if you can do so safely) for anything which could be taken by the wind.
- If it is not possible to take passenger lifts out of operation, make sure there is emergency rescue cover and that statutory thorough examinations are satisfactory, with maintenance in order. If maintenance on a lift was due but this has been delayed, use an alternative (where possible) and take equipment out of use if you can.
- Amend site rules for critical maintenance contractors so they can observe social distancing guidelines and feel safe – this way they will be there when you need them. Continue to make clear any known site hazards, especially asbestos.
- For buildings which are unoccupied or only partially occupied, prioritise legionella controls. Work with the consultant who undertakes your water risk assessment to determine a plan for this time. Either a flushing regime will need to be introduced or parts of the system taken out of use with a safe re-occupation regime. This must be under advice, as water services can be damaged if the right regime for the system has not been determined.
- Remind staff of the critical safety precautions they need to take if they are working. For example, send a daily text reminding them to wear PPE, follow safe systems of work, check the work equipment they are using for that day and to drive safely. Explain why they need to take personal responsibility right now.
- Staff are important. If they are still working, they may be afraid, so communicate important safety measures well, research how to communicate more clearly (especially if you are working from home) and answer their questions.
- Homeworking is generally low risk, but we have the potential for a mental health crisis coming out of the current Covid-19 crisis, so think about what you can do now.
- Prioritise, be practical and work closely with commercial management. Coming out the other side, executives are going to be looking at how to get businesses back up and running – this will be their top priority. The OSH support we give must be sensible and practical. What we do now as a profession has the potential to define how we are viewed in the future and perhaps we will hold health in higher regard in the future.
Be and stay well
This difficult time is placing a real strain on our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s important to recognise the triggers for stress and anxiety and know how to deal with such a situation. IOSH's Presidential team wants to ensure members are supported and would like to take part in branch and sector group meetings to present a keynote covering this subject. Please contact Sunita Patel, your regional manager or relationship manager to arrange for one of the Presidential team to take part in a meeting.