How COVID-19 is Reshaping Workplace Safety

Written and published by the British Safety Council, India on 20 April 2021

The COVID-19 vaccines are finally reaching the mass market, which means employers and leaders around India are looking forward to reopening the workplaces in the coming months. However, given the tremendous repercussions of the pandemic, things are going to be quite different. The new normal for workplaces will not be the same as before.

According to Joseph B. Fuller, professor of management practice and co-founder of Managing the Future of Work Project at Harvard Business School, “It’s the Next Normal we’re headed to, not ‘back to normal,’ and that, for a lot of companies, is going to feature changes in work practices, changes in employee expectations of their employer, and companies learning from this duress about what they can do to be more effective and efficient and attractive employers.”

The pandemic has influenced the rise of various macro-trends in the workplaces around the country, encompassing adjustments to work roles, schedules, routines, and priorities. As a result, employers are prompted to reconsider many otherwise default assumptions regarding safety behaviour in the workplace and strategise various behaviour-based safety programmes. It is no surprise that safety will be the top priority to ensure business continuity and make employees feel safe and supported when working within the premises. The pandemic is reshaping workplace safety in the following ways:

Heightened consciousness of space amongst employees

A recent survey found that three out of ten people try to avoid touching public surfaces such as doorknobs and elevator buttons. The same number translated to employees coming back to the office. To accommodate this need for safer working environments, employers are implementing various protocols as part of their behaviour safety programme.

Apart from the default use of face masks and sanitisers at workplaces, other approaches that are gaining traction include frequent disinfection of the work-stations, signage installations around the workplace encouraging safety behaviour in the workplace, and an increased communication strategy to promote behaviour-based safety programmes.

As a part of the workplace disinfection program, employers are implementing improved garbage disposal programmes. All the disposed cleaning products, garbage, used sanitary products, and other disposed products are being disposed of more efficiently while eliminating any exposure to the employees. There is a risk of infection if an infected disposed product comes in contact with an employee. Thus, garbage disposal programs are improved.

Additionally, workspaces around the country are transforming to accommodate the safety protocols. The primary one being open-plan workspaces that are turning to de-densification, i.e., reducing the worker density of the workplace to encourage social distancing. Another emerging trend amongst various workplaces is the renovation of pantries and event spaces to avoid crowding. Technology is also playing a pivotal role as more and more hygiene, and various manufacturers are launching touchless-tech products to make the workplaces safer for employees by reducing the chances of touch-based transmission of the virus.

Implementation of behaviour-based safety programmes

Apart from making the workplace a safer place to work, employers and leaders are striving to inspire an improved safety culture within the workplace. This initiative includes various strategies, starting with providing supportive features to reinforce the safety culture and sense of safety. The employers are planning consistent communication protocols, encompassing training modules, displays, signages, etc., to implement safety behaviour at the workplace. As mentioned earlier, implementing behaviour safety protocols is two-sided—educating the employees and empowering them.

Accommodation of mental health needs

Psychology experts worldwide have highlighted a range of mental health responses caused by the current crises. The employees are bearing the brunt of economic, work, and pandemic-related stress at the same time, which can have several consequences on their health. The same mental stress can impact their productivity and progress, which can affect the organisations’ operations.

A surprising number of employers in the country are strategising programmes to support workplace morale and offer safe spaces to accommodate the employees’ mental health. Some of the ways these programmes are being put into action include offering dedicated work-free zones in the workplace, frequent breaks, or the choice to work from home when applicable. Some employers are also incorporating biophilic designs, ergonomic work settings, and offering access to meditative activities. Granted, these programs seem to have some drawbacks that may affect everyday operations, but they can significantly help the organisation and its employees in the long run.

Workplace risk assessment

Despite all the safety protocols in place, COVID-19 is still an imminent threat to the employees’ health and safety. Until every employee is vaccinated—which would still take a couple of years—employers must mitigate the risk of infection. Employers are realising that the foundation of offering a safer workplace for the employees is via a thorough risk assessment. The new protocols and trends emerging in workplace safety also, to a significant extent, rely on workplace risk assessment.

Risk assessment allows employers and managers to figure out the safety lapses in their workplace culture and environment. Once they realise the lapses, they can then strategise the protocols and tailor the behaviour safety programme to suit their specific safety needs.

Workplace safety management is transforming and improving by the day, and companies are coming up with newer protocols to ensure the safety and health of their employees. However, it is not recommended to use trial and error methods when it comes to the safety of the employees. The safety protocols the organisations put in place must meet two criteria—they must be pragmatic and not jeopardise or affect other operations.

The best way to ensure and implement safe behaviour in the workplace is by contacting British Safety Council. We offer behavioural safety consultancy services to help you implement a robust behaviour-based safety programme in your workspace.