The Noggin Blog

Returning to Work in a New Era for Workplace Health and Safety

Posted by The Brain on Jul 7, 2020 2:39:29 PM

PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) in the Australian state of New South Wales woke up this month to a more aggressive safety compliance regime.

Amendments to pre-existing safety law now put employers who fail to meet health and safety obligations on the hook for stiff new penalties should their negligence lead to a worker dying on the job. Those penalties include up to 25 years in prison for individual actors. Add to that, millions in fines for companies.

Think these new rules only matter in New South Wales? You’ve got another thing coming. Safety compliance tends to be one of the most dynamic spaces, especially following crises and notable incidents. And that means you’re sure to see the impact of the COVID-19 crisis reflected in new safety regulations – if you haven’t already. How to plan for a safe return to work in such a fluid compliance environment? 

Returning to Work in a New Era for WHSFirst things first, Legal and/or Compliance representation in your return-to-work effort – be that a dedicated team or not – is critical. Your business will be operating under the rules and regulations set out by your jurisdiction and relevant health authorities (local, state, and federal).

Those rules and regulations don’t just cover when it’s permissible to reopen work premises. They also involve mandates on required closures, should cases spike up again, both in individual offices and in the geographic area, more broadly.

Throughout the crisis, those directives have changed often. It’s a safe bet that they will continue to evolve; and so, situational awareness is key.

Jurisdictions have also put out guidance on what specifically constitutes safe reopening for businesses. Further, instances of lax safety enforcement of this guidance have also drawn public ire on regulators, meaning that those same regulators now have every incentive to be zealous in their enforcements.

It will, therefore, be the employer’s responsibility to heed safety guidance – part of the employer’s broader duty of care obligation to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm – which will likely include consideration of the following:

  • Screening and testing
  • Social distancing
  • Use of personal protective equipment (masks and gloves)
  • Protocols for addressing reports of COVID-19 positive exposure

That’s not all. The safe-return-to-work compliance picture is further cloudied by privacy and discrimination considerations. The nature of the COVID-19 crisis means that employers must also consider medical privacy when addressing testing results. Further, disability discrimination law may apply, depending on the decision’s employers make on which groups of employees return to work and when. That’s putting a lot on your safety team’s plate.

Of course, maintaining continuing compliance with all relevant health and safety regulations is a key objective for the team already. But it’s long been one of the most difficult goals to achieve.

As in the case of the new statutes in NSW, COVID-19 isn’t the only crisis prompting change. There’s the wider array of other safety compliance measures that safety teams must remain abreast as they plot out return to work.

For instance, the workplace drug testing regime in the U.S. has changed dramatically since it first began; from 12 state laws and approximately 100 court cases, there are now more than 600 state laws and regulations and more than 12,000 court and agency decisions. Those cases and decisions create new precedents and standards for individual safety teams to follow.

What can help maintain compliance in these challenging times? An effective safety management software system can simplify those core compliance management duties, especially with functionality targeting compliance obligations, breaches, and. Technology should furnish easy-to-access, best-practice, out-of-the-box compliance obligation and breach forms, as well as supplying risk compliance registers as a dashboard template.

Not sure how else safety technology fits into the safe return to work puzzle? Download our COVID-19 Return to Work Playbook to learn more. 

Download the Guide

For more news and updates, follow Noggin on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Topics: Work Health Safety, Safety Management, Safety Newsletter

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