Communication and training: the pillars of a safe work environment during and post-COVID

Written and published by the British Safety Council, India on 22 June 2020.

We are gradually beginning to return to work after months under lockdown. Offices are being reopened across the country, and operations are picking up pace. However, just because the government has ordered an ‘unlock’ doesn’t mean that the threat of COVID-19 no longer exists. The existing wave hasn’t subsided yet. The possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 hitting us, due to the easing of restrictions and collective carelessness on our part. As a business leader, you need to ensure that your workplace has a safe working environment and that your employees are at no risk of contracting the virus, at least in the office space. For that, you need to implement control measures against the risk of transmission of COVID. This can include having workplace safety inspections before you resume normal operations. Additionally, you can conduct a COVID safety risk assessment, external auditing and assurance to assure your employees that they are risk-free of contraction of the virus.

Another way to ensure workplace safety is with simple measures. Not everything has to be complex in our fight against COVID. Adopting effective communication and training methods can also help in ensuring workplace safety. If your employees are provided with the correct information about the pandemic and trained to adopt the right precautionary measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of transmission at your workplace. Communication and training can become the founding pillars of a safe work environment during and post COVID scenarios. Here’s how.

How communication can ensure a safe work environment

By effectively communicating with your employees, you can keep them well-informed about the COVID-19 pandemic. Clear communication from your end can help stop the spread of rumours and unwarranted hysteria caused by it. People will be anxious about their own and their colleagues’ health when they return to work after such a prolonged period. And you wouldn’t want to add false information being circulated amongst your employees in such a scenario, adding to their anxiety.

Providing the right communication also ensures compliance, sustainability, and reassures employees of workplace safety. They will not have the added mental pressure, which we all are currently going through because of the pandemic. As a result, they can better concentrate on their work, avoid accidents and injuries caused due to mental lapses, leading to a safe working environment.

How to effectively communicate with employees to ensure workplace safety

Firstly, you must figure out the key messages you want to convey to your employees. Instead of providing a long list of information, simplify it in shorter formats such as a do’s and don’t list. Next, prepare the methods and materials in which you want to convey your message. Don’t restrict yourself to a single form of communication. Incorporate oral, textual and visual methods for communication. Provide information in various ways such as holding meetings, putting up posters and signs across the workplace, or having presentations sessions. Put out clear goals regarding safety risk management, workplace safety inspections, and external safety audits. Make sure that the employees strictly follow the communicated safety practices. Ensure that you have some form of communication regarding workplace safety daily with your employees, even if they are of short duration. Take advantage of direct as well as indirect communication to spread the message regarding COVID-19 safety across your workplace. As they say, ‘communication is the key’.

How training can ensure a safe work environment

By providing health and safety training to your employees, you can make them aware of the correct practices to be followed against COVID-19. Your employees will have a better understanding and recall of the safety practices taught in training. They will be well-informed of the safety practices to be followed at the workplace to ensure a safe work environment. A training program will help embed the safety practices deeply not only in their professional lives but also in their personal lives. They will be mindful of their every action. Training also brings about behavioural change in individuals which is critical in the current COVID-19 situation. Thus, if you really want your employees to follow guidelines related to COVID-19, ensure that they get the required training.

How to effectively provide training to employees to ensure workplace safety

You can continue with your traditional training methods for employees. This can include having on-site training or having them visit the designated training centres. However, you must ensure that safety guidelines, such as social distancing are followed. You must also ensure that your employees have some personal protection equipment, such as masks or gloves, on them. If they aren’t using gloves, ensure that they sanitise their hands properly before and after coming in physical contact with any surfaces or individuals.

You can also opt for online training methods for your workforce. It may be the case that some employees might still be working from home or are apprehensive about attending a training session with colleagues. You can provide such employees with training through an online platform. Reputed health and safety training institutes offer digital learning modules, wherein the learning experience is similar to a classroom training method. By providing online training, you can be assured that your employees are prepared with the right training and safety practices when they return.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. We haven’t faced such an adverse pandemic situation in over a hundred years. Thus, you as an employer need to take extreme measures, such as continually having workplace safety inspections, if you want to operate in a healthy and safe work environment. On the simpler measures, you need to adopt new communication and training methods to bring about new changes in your organisation, related to COVID safety. Providing effective communication and training can significantly help to ensure workplace safety.