Covid-19 has given new dimensions to workplace safety priorities

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In December 2019, the world was just discovering the novel coronavirus, and most of us were continuing with business as usual. However, a few months down the line, most plans were thrown out the window and the world largely ground to a halt because of COVID-19, the virus caused by SARSCoV-2. It’s needless to say that the safer the work environment, the more productive it is. For example, healthy employees can produce more output in less time, reducing operational costs for a company. Healthy employees do tasks more efficiently and they are happier in general.

In a safe working environment, there are fewer accidents resulting in less downtime for safety investigations and reducing worker’s compensation. Furthermore, workplace safety also reduces the time needed for employees to heal from injuries. Pre-empting injuries at workplace and damage to industrial equipment will incur fewer expenses and increase profit.

In case the employers are bothered about the safety of their employees, the employees are more confident and comfortable in general. Moreover, attendance goes up and employees are more focused on doing their tasks.

The first step to create a safe working environment is for employers to identify workplace hazards and safety issues. Employers have to initiate measures to address them accordingly. Safety hazards at workplace may include mechanical issues, dangerous chemicals, hazardous electrical equipment, etc. Also, mechanical problems can occur at any time while operating machinery. Operating heavy equipment is very risky and can cause accidents.

It’s imperative that employees are aware of the types of equipment and know the hazards in their workplace. This enables them to stay clear of such hazards and unfortunate situations. Also, managements should train employees in the proper operation of machinery and equipment.

Employee training programmes are an important part of every company’s safety programmes to protect employees from accidents. Research has shown that new employees have a higher risk of workplace accidents. It is the lack of knowledge of workplace hazards and proper work techniques that cause this risk. The usage of equipment worn to minimise exposure to hazards is very important. Ignorance of doing so can cause injury or even death.

Employees may have to work with chemicals, machines, electronics and other potential work hazards. In those cases, employees should be provided with personal protective equipment (P.P.E). Incidentally, P.P.E are gloves, protective eyewear, clothing, earplugs, hard hats, etc. Employers are legally bound to ensure safe working environments for their employees as well as their duty to end workplace hazards and promote safety in the workplace.

Some of the measures which should be strictly adhered to for workplace safety are as follows:

Respirators

There are many workers who are already required to wear respirators, safety glasses and gloves. Unfortunately, those and other personal protective equipment (PPE) quickly became scarce. Then in April, media reported in the US that nurses and doctors were wearing garbage bags and reusing N95 respirators, if they were lucky enough to have one at all.

In this regard, OSHA issued a temporary guidance permitting extended use or reuse of respirators in certain circumstances and develop contingencies in case of respirator shortages. Unfortunately, suppliers still haven’t been able to keep up with the increased demand.

Social Distancing

It’s common knowledge now that COVID-19 most commonly spreads through close contact with an infected person. In October, the CDC amended the definition of close contact as “someone within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period beginning two days before the onset of illness until the time the patient is isolated.”

Social distancing, along with wearing face masks and increased sanitisation, are currently our best defences against COVID-19. Implementing distance of at least six feet between workers can be a challenge, however, as workspaces have largely been designed for space optimisation rather than maintaining safe distance.

Wearables

Over the years, wearable devices like fitness trackers and smart watches have dominated the consumer spaces. Recently, companies have started exploring what impact those or similar devices could have on the workplace. The coronavirus pandemic has offered practical applications that are driving the market.

EHS research and consulting firm Verdantix reports that year-on-year growth rates for connected worker solutions now range from 30 per cent to 200 per cent. Organisations hoping to curb the spread or limit exposure to COVID-19 are turning to connected worker solutions that can enhance contact tracing. Gadgets like wearable wristbands and badges can alert workers when they are too close. Workers can use the device platforms to self-report infection, and deidentified location information can alert other employees who were in close proximity to self-isolate and seek testing.

Mental Health

The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated a need for both employees and employers to address the issue of mental health. Although some companies have programmes in place, there is still scope for improvement.

Virtual Training

Standard training procedures may no longer be possible. The pandemic has forced companies to systematically review, rethink and reimagine employee coming onboard and training. Training virtually offers companies a chance to create standardised documents and videos to ensure all employees have a baseline knowledge of proper safety protocols.

Virtual reality or augmented reality (VR/AR) allow employees to learn without putting them in potentially unsafe situations. The training modules can be updated and quickly pushed out across the workforce to ensure all employees have completed the latest training.

Remote Work

At the beginning of this year, when state and local governments ordered shutdowns, millions across the world suddenly went from working in an office to working from home. This sudden shift has posed a number of concerns for companies, including ensuring employees had the equipment they needed and that their security networks weren’t vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks

Various businesses, especially the manufacturing sector, have been a recent target for hackers seeking to cause chaos or make money by disrupting business operations. At least, one specific security incident that resulted in unauthorised access to data in the past 12 months has been detected which is a sizable jump from just a few years ago.

3D Printing

Last but not the least, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is poised to revolutionise manufacturing and the supply chain. Last year i.e. 2019, the 3D printing market grew to more than $10.4 billion and it is expected that it would grow to $55 billion by 2029, according to a market report from SmarTech Analysis.

These points more or less sum up the workplace safety scenario against the backdrop of the raging pandemic which might continue till the middle of the next year.

Article by Arijit Nag
Arijit Nag is a freelance journalist who writes on various aspects of the economy and current affairs.
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