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Avoid One-Size-Fits-All Strategies When Planning for a Safe Return to Work

Posted by The Brain on Jun 9, 2020 11:41:45 AM

For many organizations whose physical operations were forced to close due to COVID-19-induced lockdowns, reopening day is coming soon. Indeed, employers are busy planning for a safe reopening as the day approaches.

While planning matters, it’s the quality of those plans that will determine whether a safe reopening is possible. And as it turns out, too many organizations follow one-size-fits-all strategies that can actually compromise the safety of returning employees, imperiling business recovery from the crisis. How, exactly?

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Well, one-size-fits-all plans don’t account for the multiplicity of factors that will affect safety outcomes once businesses reopen after closures. Those factors include industry (often governed by different safety compliance regimes), geography, number of locations, as well as existing safety culture.

For instance, research has shown organizations with proactive safety cultures and/or public compliance postures already enjoy stronger safety outcomes (e.g. lower rates of safety underreporting) than their industry peers with weaker organizational safety climates.

The former should bring those important cultural factors – e.g. tendency to clearly and concisely communicate policy changes in advance to workforce and customers, so as to ensure transparency – to the task of safe reopening planning and execution. Indeed, one would expect those companies to be better placed to explain new policies to important stakeholders, as well as why they are implementing those policies and how they will be enforced.

Companies with proactive safety cultures, in particular, should also leverage existing company conduits with key safety regulators (federal, state, and local) to better prepare for any policy changes arising from updates to safety guidelines or changes to state and local phased opening guidance – remember, the situation remains fluid. Meanwhile, safety laggards, because they are starting from a lower baseline, should embed planning for safe reopening in a broader push to improve the safety culture.  

The same logic applies to companies opening multiple locations (especially in different jurisdictions). Some employers will be opting for a uniform, standardized approach across all venues. Other employers will be beginning with a safety planning baseline and adapting that framework to conditions on the ground, carefully considering guidance from local, county, and state governments.

Of course, there are safe reopening best practices that employers can implement – pretty much across the board. For one, enhanced cleaning and disinfection of work premises will likely be required before staff returns to work.

Context still matters, though. Businesses located in office buildings where restrooms and other common areas are shared should also ascertain what responsibilities lie with building management and what specific measures those stakeholders will implement in order to ensure a safe workplace.       

Further, the setup of individual offices will also shape safe reopening planning, as social distance will have to be maintained to mitigate the risk of infection. To be specific, many work sites (especially open office plans), when fully populated, are simply not configured to promote social distance. In that case, employers might consider segmenting teams (e.g. A and B), then reintroducing segmented teams in shifts (e.g. team A in the morning and team B in the afternoon).

Along those same lines, certain populations have proven to be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. According to most health authorities, those populations include adults 65 years and older and people (of any age) who have serious underlying medical conditions. Without violating disability discrimination law, employers might consider giving those high-risk populations the option to work remotely (if possible).

Finally, return to work introduces significant safety risk. Mitigating that risk requires context-specific safety planning. And that’s not all. COVID-19 safety maintenance measures will have to be ongoing. Luckily, technology solutions like Noggin’s Free COVID-19 Response Modules give businesses and healthcare organizations all of the tools they need to protect their people from the COVID-19 threat. Context-specific capabilities to prepare workplaces (best-practices and guidelines), protect workers (welfare tracking, health surveillance, temperature reporting), and manage potential infections (guidelines for positive tests, simple worker contact tracing, and worker case management and individual return to work plans) will help ensure a safe workplace, as well as a brisk business recovery from COVID-19 disruptions. Access the safe return to work features in the Free Noggin COVID-19 Response Modules today.

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Topics: Work Health Safety, Safety Newsletter

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