If businesses are like football clubs, then COVID-19 has just moved the goalposts. Duncan Spencer CFIOSH asks how firms should change their playing style to avoid relegation.
How should the OSH professional regain a handle on the post-pandemic future?
Using a football club as an analogy, the boardroom is equivalent to the government, which sets policy. The fans are like the wider society and expect a certain style of football they can engage with and enthuse about. The organisation can be likened to the team and its manager (CEO). The OSH professional is a speciality coach. Speciality coaches can only influence if they understand what the boardroom wants, what the fan base demands and what different structures and tactics the team are going to develop and adopt to enhance competitiveness and drive positive results.
COVID-19 has changed government policy: it is building a new mindset in society, and organisations are changing rapidly to respond to different economic challenges. If OSH professionals are to have future influence, they must understand these three elements and use this information to provide context and modify their coaching advice accordingly.
This is vital for organisations wishing to develop a sustainable business model and appreciate human capital as a contributor of value. To extend our analogy, it is about ‘fair play’. In football the rules are not changed before a tournament, but there is a referee’s meeting to decide how the rules are to be applied to ensure sporting behaviour on the pitch. In the aftermath of COVID-19, one possibility is that OSH legislation (the rules) won’t be changed because governments will be focused more on economic recovery, but standards or what we consider as good practice (rule application) will probably shift as a result of our new experience.
The league, club and management may be different, but players and coaches still need to apply the same skills
The response to COVID-19, particularly social distancing, has driven a need to develop new ways of working. More people will work alone or at home, challenging the OSH profession to advise on how they can be managed safely. Business travel may still be scaled down, making it more difficult to audit the OSH performance of the supply chain. There may be greater use of temporary workers and contractors and increasing exposure to the OSH risks they bring. Migrant workforces are no longer moving across borders, forcing organisations to find new sources of labour that bring fresh training challenges.
A different league
What will changes brought by COVID-19 mean to OSH risk management? Organisations may be considering new production processes, management systems and ways of working that will introduce new risk or change the control strategy for existing risk. Health will become a more prominent consideration with increased risk of sedentarianism promoted by working from home.
Remote working will bring new perspectives on mental wellbeing. We may employ more people in the ageing demographic and work hard to attract and keep talented younger employees who will have a renewed desire to work for ethical and caring organisations they can trust.
The pause on climate change response will be lifted. The OSH professional may well be called upon to resume their advice on how temperature change, air pollution and extreme weather events will affect our workers and our operations. They have a role to play in advising their organisations on how to respond to all these challenges to enhance brand and reputation and contribute to organisational success.
Something in the kitbag
For OSH professionals, a radical change in approach may not be necessary. Robust risk assessment will still be the mainstay for justifying the design of effective safety management systems. Existing risk assessment can be modified to show post-pandemic changes. Risk from new activities can be captured. The OSH professional will continue to apply technical competency to assist with risk prediction and advise on preventative measures. In other words, in the new post-pandemic world it will still be about utilising tried and tested OSH principles, tools and techniques. Think of it as transferring to a different team. The league, club and management may be different, but players and their coaches still need to apply the same skills.
It could be argued that COVID-19 has had a similar effect to the introduction of the video assistant referee in football. While it hasn’t changed the rules or how they are applied, it has evolved the culture of the game and the way it is being played.
The technical ability of OSH professionals will not be as important as their influential business skill and behavioural competencies. OSH professionals must keep up to date with government policy, changes in the expectation of society and the potential developments of their organisations. They must have frequent dialogue with their peers in other business functions if they are to influence change during conception rather than fire-fight after implementation.
In this way, they can help their organisation avoid relegation, have a great season and may even win the league!
Revisit these areas of risk management after COVID
- Horizon-scanning – adherence to new/evolving legislation, standards and guidance
- Revisit risk assessments and analyses
- Identify and implement controls (including specific government guidance)
- Procedures for enhanced hygiene regime and facilities
- Policy and procedure for PPE/RPE
- Arrangements for ensuring distancing measures – physical and/or temporal
- Site accessibility/restrictions
- Schedules and arrangements for statutory inspections, testing and licensing
- Inbound deliveries – driver safety and welfare
- Outbound deliveries – consult with customer destinations/drop-offs
- Authority to travel
- Increased need for effective communications, promotional activities, behavioural nudges and positive messaging
Duncan Spencer CFIOSH, head of advice and practice at IOSH