OSH content developer John Allen on why OSH practitioners should embrace the opportunity to expand their remit and engagement in sustainability.
National leaders across the world have seen their leadership skills put to the test by COVID-19. Some responded well, some less so. While arguments rumble on about the original source of the pandemic, there is an opportunity to lead nations out of the crisis in a sustainable way. This would mean increased co-operation between national governments, focusing on what is important to our world and the people who live in it. But there is a danger we could see a decrease in international co-operation, as countries seek to protect their own interests and resources.
Some governments imposed draconian restrictions on their people that brought a rapid control over infections. Others brought in lesser restrictions, and relaxed these relatively quickly. As a result they experienced higher levels of infections and deaths. Some instigated tight border controls to prevent infected people entering their country and adding to the healthcare burden; others were far slower in bringing in any such restrictions.
Some countries experienced differing opinions among their people about the effects of COVID-19 and what the response to it should be. This led to protests against lockdowns and restrictions in places. Coupled with what were often confusing messages from governments and experts, uncertainty among citizens has been common. As the world goes back to work, leadership from the OSH profession will be important in countering this in workplaces.
'There is a good opportunity for OSH professionals to enhance their role as an independent and trusted source of advice'
Two competing factors are likely to dominate the world of work while emerging from the pandemic. On the one hand, organisations will want return to work and generate revenue as quickly as possible, with obvious risks to the safety and health of workers if not handled responsibly. On the other hand, there is an expectation by workers that organisations should minimise the risks of the virus within the workplace, by demonstrating good practices.
The role of the OSH professional will therefore be to control the former and encourage the latter; not a radical change to their normal role in many ways, but perhaps a different emphasis. With the amount of guidance and news on COVID-19, and the level of concern about it among all walks of life, there is perhaps a good opportunity for OSH professionals to enhance their role as an independent and trusted source of advice.
The media focused on the bad news and sensational aspects of the crisis, which will have given the public a distorted picture. One thing the OSH professional can do is sift through the real and fake news and the details of guidance and research, and present accurate and balanced advice to management and workers.
During the process of a return to work, senior management may understandably be focused on economic recovery, sales figures, supply chain issues and so on. The OSH profession needs to take the lead and ensure that the safety and health of workers is paramount during the rush to get back to ‘normal’. In addition to extra hygiene measures, this will include ensuring that established risk controls are consistently implemented.
Finally, the pandemic has revealed issues around sustainability. Many OSH professionals might not see a role in this but their input, in terms of steering the nature of reporting, providing the information for it, and encouraging it, will be important in generating a transparent world of business going forward. The opportunity to expand the remit and engagement in sustainability is one that OSH professionals can play a vital role in.