Almost one year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to say the world has changed. One area seriously impacted by the pandemic is risk management and health and safety in the workplace.
Working practices have shifted dramatically, and health and safety managers and those charged with risk management have found themselves in a new and challenging environment.
How has risk management been affected by COVID-19, and what can those with safety responsibilities do to counter it?
Impact of COVID-19 on risk management
We are all painfully aware of the changes COVID-19 has had on the workplace in general. Most people not in front-line roles are now confined to their homes, with living rooms, conservatories, and spare bedrooms becoming offices.
But not everyone has been affected by the pandemic in the same way when it comes to working. Health workers are still required to face the public every day, as are other vital workers such as those in the food, shopping, and service industries. Important building and infrastructure works remain ongoing.
These workers are continually exposed to the risks posed by COVID-19 and the general dangers of their particular profession. This is even more concerning now that supervisors, health and safety professionals, and others in charge of keeping them safe are tasked with tackling the new challenges posed by COVID. It is a delicate balancing act to ensure COVID-specific measures are implemented, without neglecting standard, vital health and safety provisions.
Risk management during COVID-19
What steps can you take to identify and manage risks during COVID-19?
People can often get so caught up in the other factors of health and safety/risk management; they can forget the most important part: PEOPLE.
Factoring in the constantly changing COVID-19 situation alongside standard risk management means you can lose sight of the people involved. When managing risk, you should always keep in mind that you are dealing with real people, not statistics.
Whether your employees are home-based or working on-site, remember that they are individuals, and their safety is paramount.
Conversely, as I discussed in my recent ‘Human Factor’ blog, human behaviour is the most unpredictable part of safety and risk management. COVID has made this even more apparent: people are stressed, balancing work and childcare, and fearful of the future. It may be more difficult to predict and mitigate risky behaviour. When carrying out your role, remember to be sympathetic and allow for these new factors.
Identify new risks, but don’t forget the classics
As mentioned above, the pandemic has brought with it a host of new challenges. Many businesses neglected to develop robust work from the home policy before the pandemic. These businesses had to scramble to align the new world of home working with health and safety policies as best they could.
Those managing risks in frontline fields faced an even greater challenge. COVID brought a host of new challenges including social distancing and sanitisation, to a greater degree than ever before. Things which were comfortably standard before – such as the number of workers on-site or the length of time between cleaning – became major considerations. The constantly shifting nature of the virus, and sometimes vague government guidelines, made tackling these things difficult and time-consuming.
Despite these new dangers, other risk considerations remain. Work at height on building projects still requires the correct training, equipment, and planning. Human behaviour still needs to be managed. The health of employees needs to be maintained with regularly enforced breaks and ergonomic management.
If you are overwhelmed in your risk management role trying to tackle everything, make sure you communicate. If necessary, ask to recruit support staff, or seek out the help of a professional consultant.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Sometimes it feels like we’re further apart than ever before. No amount of Zoom calls, quizzes, and Slack chats can make up for real face-to-face interaction. Even those not working from home feel the disconnect, with masks and social distancing making banter a thing of the past.
With the rigid structure of video calls and email chains, it’s easy for things to get lost in translation or forgotten about completely. When it comes to risk management, this can lead to serious consequences: and fast.
Make communication a priority. Ensure all safety provisions are properly communicated to everyone in the company. If you have risk management responsibilities, you should have a direct line to everyone, and regularly be communicating important updates regarding COVID and beyond to keep everyone in the loop.
The new world of risk management
There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’, which goes for risk management. Constantly identifying and mitigating risks has never been an easy job, and it’s only gotten harder thanks to the pandemic.
I have 20 years of experience in risk management, helping safety managers, supervisors and businesses keep people safe. If you need health and safety support during this strange time, don’t hesitate to reach out via the contact options below.