What do you think of when you hear “Health and safety at work”?
Do you think of Covid-19, and its seemingly non-ending risk to society as we currently know it? Do you think of OSHA protocols and PPE? Do you think of personal injury? Do you think of a colleague you’ve lost in the past?
Well, for the United Nations, that’s the idea behind the institution of an international day of recognition. In 2003, the International Labor Organization began to observe World Day for Safety and Health at Work to stress the prevention of accidents and diseases at work. This organization champions anyone from employers to governments to local labor organizations to ensure that the utmost care is being put into worker safety on a systemic level.
How Engineers Stay Safe On-Site
Safety and health at work for a North American company is multifaceted. For a company like Bastian Solutions, where our engineers spend anywhere from 20-50% of time on customer sites, it is important to consider all the ways we actively work to ensure we meet and exceed minimum requirements outlined for our safety.
- Awareness: sites are dynamic environments chock full of heavy equipment, machinery, and countless moving parts. It is important to understand what is on site before visiting and stay vigilant and visible using your PPE.
- Communication: always ensure you touch base with your customer representative at sites to share updates on issues or changes on site that could affect your safety or theirs. When issues do arise, it is important to understand the problem and then communicate clearly and effectively with the person(s) who is well-equipped to handle it.
- Designated Work Areas: Selecting or reviewing your designated site work area to ensure it is in an optimal location. Ensure you have enough space for your equipment, desk, documents and laptop if necessary, and that the area is cordoned off if you’ll be working their regularly.
- PPE: Workers must ensure they are utilizing proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which at a minimum include work boots, safety vests and hard hats. It is important to ensure your PPE is well-fitting and not too heavy. Avoid items that have a lot of loose material and opt for lightweight jackets and boots to avoid muscle strain and injury.
How Could the Future of Work Change Due to COVID-19?
For many countries around the world, safety and health at work still involves measures to address basic worker needs like sustainable pay, healthy working conditions, and hours. For world leaders in developing countries, however, it is important to consider the role we play in leading the charge by designing and implementing safety policy and procedures that address more than just physical safety. Considering COVID-19, our global response to return-to-work will need to consider social and economic factors.
Many workplaces are openly focusing their efforts on ensuring individual employee well-being, a significant shift in thinking from overall company success through standardized means, to success metrics that prioritize an individual’s needs. Notably, we will see significant changes to how businesses and government address mental health, collaboration, and work from home policies in their response to COVID-19.
Increased Remote Work
Outside of COVID-19, some experts acknowledge that there is an improvement of employees’ work-life balance when they are allowed to work from home, largely due to reduced commuting and improved access to colleagues through telework technology. With improved collaboration facilitated through software platforms like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, GoTo Meeting and Zoom, companies who don’t need their in-person collaboration to achieve effective outcomes may find themselves shifting to work from home models.
The increased use of machinery in industrial sites, and the transition of our workforce from physical labor to desk work requires us to take ergonomics into greater consideration. Employers formerly invested in comfortable and structured workplace environments for their employees but will now have to pay more attention to how employees conduct their duties at home. The ergonomics of our employees’ work setups will no doubt impact their productivity and overall success of businesses. Employees will have to pay greater attention to using suitable equipment like headsets, computers, and ergonomic desks and chairs, and maintaining good posture and levels of activity when sitting all day.
Employee Mental Health
With workers now having been isolated for over a month across North America, the toll of confinement, coupled with the stress of contracting COVID-19 has and will continue to impact overall productivity. This is in addition to existing mental health stressors that our workforce experienced prior to the pandemic: financial worries resulting from economic fluctuations, job security, health and safety of family members sharing a household, and concerns for vulnerable society members who are now at increased risk for health complications resulting from the virus. Employers will need to maintain an awareness of employee concerns and evaluate how they support employees in the wake of COVID-19 and the accompanying fallout.
Increased Virtual Workplace Collaboration
Workers are being forced to use innovative means to stay connected, and while many managers are utilizing creative methods to keep their teams engaged, all around, workers’ competence in the use of technology has and will continue to yield greater individual capability. Once the panic of the pandemic is over, we will no doubt emerge with greater communication strategies and systems. This will result in stronger teams, better communication, and increased use of software that will improve our businesses. It will be the responsibility of these software platforms to grow with organizations’ needs, as well as the responsibility of employers to sustain this usage and ensure employees have continued access to the tools they deem most useful.
The widespread effects of the pandemic have spared no one. With businesses large and small halted amid the crisis, we will see a spike in policy which ensures the resilience of workplaces. This will include changes to how we interact in the workplace, how we leverage our online platforms for working, how we sanitize and secure our office and workspaces and how we respond to health of individual workers.
Click the link to read more about the ILO’s report on the future of work.
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