Many employers used to think health and safety meant providing hardhats and safety goggles. This view is now being replaced by a more holistic idea of what workplace safety entails: the physical and mental health and wellbeing of employees.
Traditionally, health and safety in the workplace have been associated with providing physical protection to workers. What this means specifically, depends on the individual organization and the industry it operates in. For an office-based business, for example, providing ergonomically shaped desks and chairs can be sufficient.
On the other hand, a manufacturing plant requires strict processes and standard operating procedures to keep workers safe. Add to that protective clothing and regulated working hours to see the extent of workplace safety.
COVID-19 required businesses to take wider precautions than most health and safety professionals had previously considered. Their focus shifted to infection control. During the first half of 2020, it became clear that not only was it hard to procure the personal protective equipment (PPE) required.
With the lack of safety equipment, came a rise in insecurity and anxiety. Both employers and employees struggled to adjust to the changes required of them. At the same time, professionals started thinking differently about workplace health and safety. A more inclusive approach started taking shape.
This new approach includes the concept of wellness. According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness is “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health”. The concept stretches beyond physical health and implies that intentions and actions are required to achieve this state of wellness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started championing a more inclusive approach to workplace health and safety before Covid-19. Their Total Worker Health (TWH) model relies on a comprehensive approach that includes traditional workplace safety but also considers employee satisfaction.
Another key characteristic of this approach is employee involvement. Rather than imposing top-down policies on workers, TWH encourages workers to influence company policies. After all, they often understand best which safety issues are associated with their job.
COVID-19 made problems within workplace health and safety obvious. Professor Jack Dennerlein of the Department of Environmental Health and co-director of Work Health and Well-being: Achieving Worker Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says that any flaws in the system were exposed by the pandemic. COVID-19 stressed the system and meant that its inherent failings can no longer be ignored.
Granted, many businesses never stopped operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those who had to revert to working from home or had to stop operating partially or completely now have an opportunity to ‘build back better’. A survey by Armstrong World Industries suggests that “workers value overall wellbeing practically as much as they value physical safety and security”.
Your workforce is more aware than ever of workspace safety. Businesses can use this opportunity to create better workplaces. Those will not only make employees feel safe and valued but will also help attract and retain top talent.
Taking a more comprehensive approach to workplace safety, including physical and mental wellbeing, makes business sense. Creating an environment where employees thrive means lower worker turnover, fewer sick days, and lower injury levels. Companies benefit from better morale, and the results are reflected in their financial performance as well.
As an employer, preparing for a safe return of your workforce post-COVID needs to be a priority. This starts by preparing offices, manufacturing facilities, and other spaces according to the latest national and local guidelines.
Assessing who needs to return versus who can (continue to) work from home is part of this. Allowing some employees to work remotely will limit the risk of exposure to the virus in your workplace. It will also help you make spaces safer by moving desks further apart, for example.
Offering those who do need to be at work regular COVID tests is a cost-effective way of increasing safety. Testing can easily be combined with daily screening for symptoms. In fact, employees can screen at home, before coming to work. Anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms will be directed to seek medical assistance before coming to work. Testing and screening will reassure employees that the company values their wellbeing.
If the nature of your business requires employees to work long hours, it may be hard for them to make vaccination appointments. Consider providing on-site vaccination services for your workforce.
Throughout the United States, vaccination rates have been dropping in recent weeks. Some of this decline is due to people having difficulties accessing vaccination services after working hours. As an employer, creating an opportunity for staff to become vaccinated means more than supporting your business. You are also helping their families and friends at the same time. TrueCare™ provides this comprehensive service for companies of any size.
The coronavirus pandemic brought workplace health and safety to national attention. Systematic failings became obvious, and we now have an opportunity to improve workplaces. This includes looking at safety more holistically as a combination of physical safety and wellbeing. Doing this will allow your company to reduce employee turnover, reduce illness and injury at work, and improve staff morale and – eventually – business performance.
TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.