Exploring The Role Of Health And Safety In A Post-COVID World
Historically, health and safety policy has set a focus on mitigating the risks involved in physical injury. Such activity is far from surprising. In the past, the greatest threat posed to the UK’s workforce was accidental injury or death as a result of physical harm.
Falling from height, trips and falls, incidents involving heavy objects, contact with machinery or vehicles, or being hit by a moving vehicle all top the list of reasons why employers file injury at work reports. Over time, these types of incidents became so commonplace that they drew focus away from other areas.
Again, not surprising.
Yet, we must note that health and safety is not just about preventing injury at work but also illness at work.
Health and safety policy, amongst other things, governs the measures put in place by a business to manage the risk of contracting a serious illness at work. As COVID hit, we became aware that health and safety protocols across the UK, and the world, were not necessarily prepared for this.
As it stands, over 129,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in the United Kingdom alone. While many of these are over the working age, there was still a significant proportion of individuals within the workforce that lost their lives to the virus; far more than would die due to physical injury during the same period.
It’s hard to compare the two realistically — physical injury at work vs the risk of contracting COVID-19 — given how the virus is transmitted. However, it’s also hard to argue, given the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic, that we won’t see a long-lasting and far-reaching set of changes introduced to the way health and safety is managed as a result.
While the impacts on health and safety are obvious for the current workplace, with businesses taking on all kinds of preventive measures to get people back into work safety, what does the future of health and safety look like in a post-COVID world?
People Focused Health And Safety
Health and safety has a reputation for getting bogged down in statistics and bureaucracy. The negative culture surrounding safety is often derived from the idea that health and safety is nothing more than checking boxes and forming policies to hit targets or protect a business from liability. What COVID-19 taught everyone, from senior management to the office intern, was that the real victims of health and safety concerns are people and communities. The cost of the outbreak was felt heaviest, not commercially but through the people that became sick. The future of health and safety is set to follow this lead, both in terms of cultural acceptance and policy forming, looking specifically at the human element and how people can be protected rather than safeguarding a business property.
Attention On Virus And Illness Containment
While it might be an obvious response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s still an important one to cover. The impacts of the Coronavirus will, undoubtedly, cause ripple effects across health and safety where viral transmission and the spread of contagions are concerned. We’ve now seen the potential damage of an outbreak. Health and safety policy will likely be used to enforce change to reduce the chances of something like this happening again — from avoiding another outbreak to preventing the spread of standard strains of flu. Preventative measures likely to be adopted by health and safety include: regular sanitisation, easy-clean surfaces, low-touch technology, enforced sick days for symptomatic individuals and restrictions on close workplace contact. These measures may be used long-term as a direct result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Preventative. Not Reactive
COVID-19 is a powerful lesson in the value of preventive health and safety activity. The UK saw huge economic damage during the early lockdown periods because there was no safety infrastructure in place to allow for commercial life to continue at any capacity. As measures were introduced, including face masks, social distancing and high sanitisation levels, businesses began to re-open. The response demonstrates that the damage would not have been nearly as devastating for businesses or communities had preventive measures been in place. COVID-19 is an important reminder of the power of acting to create a strong, resilient and adaptable safety plan that mitigates costs and risks by enabling businesses to operate under ‘worse case scenario’ conditions.
Changes In Employee Attitudes
Many individuals suffer from ‘it won’t happen to me syndrome’ — the belief that the stories they read about health and safety incidents happen to other people. The Pandemic was a stark reminder that health and safety problems could impact anyone. With over 5 million confirmed cases, a massive chunk of the workforce was either affected by the virus or witnessed the effects of COVID-19 through a family member, friend or colleague. Many of these cases were being transmitted by those who did not follow proper safety procedures. This has meant that personal health awareness and regulatory diligence have become part of the post-COVID culture. For example, multiple political figures have been forced to resign from their positions after flouting the health and safety rules put in place by the governing party. People are just far less accepting of individuals who break the rules if it presents the possibility of a threat to safety. This cultural shift is set to have implications for health and safety. Our newfound public awareness of how actions can affect personal safety brings the concept of carelessness and reckless behaviour into a much more negative and disapproved light.
Alex Minett is the Head of Product & Markets at CHAS, the UK’s leading health and safety assessment scheme and provider of risk mitigation, compliance and supply chain management services. With a working history in the audit and management consulting industry, Alex is experienced in implementing visions and strategies. Skilled in negotiation, management and business development, he is passionate about driving CHAS in its mission to safeguard organisations from risk in the UK.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by CHAS .
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