Workplace safety in the times of COVID

Written and published by the British Safety Council, India on 26 Nov 2020.

There is no denying the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the workplace culture, especially on employee safety. With over eight million cases and a hundred thousand deaths (and counting) in India, enterprises across the nation are struggling with the health and safety threat. Building a safe work environment in such a scenario isn’t easy. Employers need to not only guarantee employee safety against the usual occupational hazards but also keep them safe from contracting COVID-19 at the workplace. You, as an employer, should take advanced measures that can ensure complete workplace safety in the time of COVID-19. You need to have the following attributes at the workplace that can help improve employee morale, confidence, and eventually, employee safety.

Strong leadership

Strong leadership is one of the cornerstones of workplace safety, especially in such turbulent times. Employees look up to and follow leaders, and a workforce is only as good as its leader. Thus, you need excellent leadership to organise your workforce, manage them, make them aware of the situation they are going through, and take necessary steps to improve employee safety.

In the current scenario, a leader can come from any hierarchical role for improving workplace safety. Therefore, don’t hesitate to choose Individuals for leadership roles who are ready to take the responsibility of ensuring their as well as other workers’ safety. Choose individuals who can set an example for the entire workforce and motivate employees to follow safety procedures diligently.

Open, two-way communication

Communication is one of the most crucial and easy-to-implement measures that can help significantly improve employee safety. Having open communication can help employees and employers better understand each other and help strengthen the fight against COVID and other hazards at the workplace. This will eventually lead to employee safety. Here’s how you can improve communication at your workplace.

Be honest

Being straightforward brings transparency and gives employees a clear understanding of the measures that need to be taken for their own as well as their colleagues’ safety during as well as after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Set clear expectations

Clearly communicate the safety procedures that employees need to follow to ensure there is no risk of workplace injuries. You also need to set clear expectations regarding the additional safety protocols that need to be adhered to at the workplace, such as maintaining social distance or wearing a mask, due to COVID-19.

Have personal conversations

Instead of having a group communication session, it would be better if you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, if possible. If that isn’t feasible, have as small groups as possible to effectively communicate and connect with your employees. You also need to communicate with your remote employees. It would be better if you have a conversation over a video or audio call, instead of sending an email.

Take feedback

Conversation is a two-way thing. Therefore, encourage active participation from employees in the discussion sessions. Carefully listen to what employees have to say and act upon their feedback and suggestions, if possible.

Workplace adaptation

You need to review your operations and workplace environment to find out how you need to adapt, keeping in mind the added responsibility of protecting your employees from COVID-19. You need to ensure that government-mandated guidelines are followed rigorously at the workplace. This not only helps maintain employee safety but also ensures compliance and avoids instances of penalties or legal action. To analyse the workplace adaptation that might be needed, you can have a COVID-19 assessment audit conducted by a reputed, experienced organisation such as the British Safety Council. A detailed audit helps determine the risks that can compromise employee safety in general as well as risks that can lead to COVID-19 transmission. Based on the audit report, you can make the necessary changes in the workplace to ensure employees are safe against hazards in the workplace, including COVID-19. Some of the workplace adaptations and adjustments that you’ll need to carry out include:

  • Maintaining social distancing between employees
  • Having employees wear protective equipment such as face masks
  • Sanitising the workplace frequently
  • Making changes to access and egress points and other areas at the workplace

Changing employee behaviour

You need to increase awareness amongst the employees regarding workplace safety as well as COVID-19. You need to provide accurate information that can ensure employees are well informed about their actions and decisions they need to make at the workplace. Have signages and other informatory content placed throughout the workplace that can help constantly remind employees of their responsibilities and duties in ensuring a safe workplace environment. In the long-term, this will help bring a behavioural change in employees and improve the levels of employee safety.

Similarly, you can also provide behaviour-based safety training to further expedite the process of bringing a positive change in employee behaviour. A behaviour-based safety course, such as the one provided by British Safety Council, trains safety teams to recognise unsafe behaviours at the workplace and provides training that can help reduce hazards by finding alternatives to unsafe behaviours.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented one of the toughest challenges that we have faced in our professional careers. It has made everything go haywire, such as work schedules, finances, and even employee safety. However, as we return back to normalcy, with the right, organised, and focused approach, we can definitely create and maintain a healthy safety culture. After all, COVID is not permanent, but worker safety should always be.