As more organisations begin to return to the workplace, it is crucial for OSH professionals to take a step back and return to the risk-based principles at the heart of the work we do, writes IOSH vice president Louise Hosking.
Back in April, I wrote about the importance of continuing to consider all relevant hazards in the workplace whilst planning COVID-19 infection controls. The pandemic is affecting the world in different ways. Countries, nations, regions and cities are all juggling different rules and requirements based on changing infection rates.
We also need to help get the wheels of industry moving again, safely, with a clear focus on the health and wellbeing of our teams.
There is a lot for us as OSH professionals to consider. It is crucial for us to take a step back and return to the risk-based principles at the heart of the work we do. Back to Plan, Do, Check, Act. We need to be agile, practical and sensitive to those we are working alongside. We also need to be strong and unafraid to make timely decisions so business leaders can in turn make informed choices for their organisations.
OSH has been thrown into the spotlight like never before, but a spotlight only shines on one area. It is important to place COVID-19 into our risk registers along with other workplace hazards because we are all going to have to live with it for a while.
Infection control and business continuity have rightly been a high priority but it’s time to bring whole safety management systems back online with COVID-19 control embedded in the day-to-day, along with other hazards.
1. Go back to HSG65. Look at the short guide from the HSE, step back and review your safety management system right now. Take the time to reflect on where you are in respect of all the hazards within your organisation and consider where COVID-19 infection sits. Plan, Do, Check, Act.
2. Go back to your risk register and your risk assessments. Review them. Reflect, step back and consider how the landscape has changed. Do not try to squeeze your pre-COVID-19 risk assessments into your current workplace. Be practical – consider what it is you are looking to achieve, work with those around you and brainstorm ideas. Ensure any new or emerging hazards have been considered.
3. Look to embed infection control within risk assessments rather than see COVID-19 purely as a stand-alone hazard.
4. As you review your risk assessments, also review training. Training has been more challenging to complete during this period and it is possible some time-limited training will need to be refreshed. Think about all the ways you communicate within your organisation and the lessons learnt over this time. Use this information to bring training back on track. Prioritise based on your risk assessment work. In the construction industry, tool box talks are commonplace. These can work anywhere and colleagues supporting colleagues is a great way to communicate important messages. Be creative!
5. Talk to your people and listen. They may be anxious about returning. Skills they were using on a regular basis may be a little rusty.
6. Look at the agenda for your regular OSH meetings. They are likely to have been biased toward infection control over the last months or you may have reduced meetings. Realign and ensure the focus is on those aspects your review has identified as needing to get back on track.
7. Be honest with yourself. It is highly probable issues you were managing well before may have slipped – even if this is regular walk-through inspections, feedback questionnaires or audits.
8. Prioritise well. Prioritise fire safety and critical building maintenance such as gas safety, electrical safety and critical services.
9. Consider reassurance sampling in respect of legionella control especially as buildings remain under-occupied. Review this risk assessment with your consultant.
10. Make sure work equipment checks are in place and ticking over – refresh training on equipment where particular skills are required especially for teams who have been away from the workplace for a while. Ensure legal standards are being met for equipment used in lifting operations including passenger lifts.
11. Managing anxiety and stress is likely to be a high priority. Good communication and a reflection on general management arrangements and ethical values are critical here. Leaders must remain engaged and walk the talk to create psychologically safe workplaces where everyone feels they can be heard, contribute and are respected.
12. Review home working. Use HSE guidance to guide organisational obligations to provide the right standards for your teams.
13. Consider contractor management arrangements within your supply chain. Work alongside them to ensure their standards and risk assessments are current.
14. Finally, be kind. Organisations have been through a lot and it’s not over yet. Some professional and technical skills are bound to be a little rusty. Those in control of our organisations know there is still a long way to go and they are focused on the long term, on keeping the business going. Walk alongside them.
What we do now as a profession has the potential to define how OSH is viewed long into the future – saving more lives than ever before.
Louise is managing director of Hosking Associates and IOSH vice president