Workplace Safety After COVID-19
It's not over till it's over - and it seems that it's not over yet. So while we might be looking towards a post-COVID-19 future, the present situation sees reintroduced restrictions following the emergence of the Omicron variant. The future of work therefore continues to be uncertain, and it seems unlikely that we'll ever see a return to traditional working patterns. Employee expectations have changed dramatically in the last few years, especially concerning where and how people envisage their role.
Whether working from home or on business premises, all possible measures must be put in place, and training should be given for the revised circumstances. Employers must take the latest government guidance into account in their health and safety management policies and ensure they prioritise staff health and well-being. This means, for example, that wearing face masks in certain settings will be mandatory, and other critical behaviours will be adopted in line with the UK Government's Plan B.
The government guidelines remind employers of their responsibility for their staff's health and safety during and after the pandemic. Priority actions must be taken in the workplace to protect both staff and customers, with an emphasis on proper ventilation, cleaning and PPE. The importance of tests and vaccinations is highlighted, together with reduced physical contact for workers, contractors, customers and visitors. These guidelines were updated on 7th January 2022 and reverted to reduced travel and social contact, with more people working again from home.
Mental health and employer flexibility
This makes safety at work and risk assessments more difficult to plan and enforce, particularly with the greater levels of awareness in relation to psychological health. Fortunately, as a result of the pandemic, many businesses are now more aware of such work-related issues as anxiety and depression. More information is available, with employers starting to recognise the potential impact of these psychological risks on their employees' well-being, and how this in turn affects their company's reputation. As a result, businesses are beginning to think creatively about more agile ways of working, and to be more flexible about employees' circumstances.
Also on the positive side, employee safety is being increased by technological advances and the manipulation of sophisticated data. This offers great potential for improvement in safety standards. Smart PPE, for example, can monitor many aspects of a worker's biological responses to hazardous environments. The collected data can be analysed and used to improve working conditions, while machine learning contributes to the ongoing development of such safety equipment.
Challenges & investment
While safety in the workplace may have a much wider meaning than it did only a few years ago, social and technological developments are helping people at all levels to address the new challenges. The upshot is that we've combined a solid foundation of traditional safety practices with a better understanding of the new risks. Employers can build on these foundations, investing in safety technology and training so as to increase their overall levels of protection. Such investment will help employers to recognise new risks, to benefit from new technology that supports their employees, and to contribute to the improvement of overall safety standards.