Advancing through COVID-19 While Maintaining Safety and Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a turbulent time for many manufacturers and other businesses. Balancing business needs with safety can be challenging, particularly when this pandemic disrupted supply chains, labor availability, and investment. Optimation has continually risen to this challenge by management the disruptions with strategic and thoughtful courses of action. We developed business continuation and risk mitigation plans early which ensured our operations would continue safely.
Optimation has been a proud partner and supplier for Operation Warp Speed, which produced a national public-private partnership to bring a viable COVID-19 vaccine to distribution in under a year. With this goal achieved, the focus is now on scaling up production and making the vaccine available to all. Although it is only a matter of time now that we achieve “herd immunity” and end this destructive pandemic, we must keep our eye on the ball. Covid-19 is still a threat until the transmission rate can be stopped. Mitigations already in place such as using face coverings, distance, and sanitation continue to be a must. Companies may struggle with “COVID fatigue” which can undermine efforts to stop transmission. Moreover, there are still many occupational safety and health hazards that require mitigation. It is often forgotten that other hazards continue to be present in the workplace and should receive the attention that Covid-19 enjoys. So, the question then is “how can we manage all of this?”. It seems daunting.
Here are some proactive things a company can do to keep these hazards at bay:
1. Continue training employees on hazards present in the workplace and how to mitigate them. Not only is this required by OSHA, continual training is important for closing knowledge and skills gaps lost in time.
2. Always have a rationale for mitigation efforts and communicate it. Its easy to tell employees what to do through policy and executive actions but helping them understand the rationale behind the decisions makes employees want to help the situation.
3. Look for creative ways to continue delivering services and products without exposing employees to workplace hazards. If anything, Covid has taught us that working remotely is feasible, and can save on hidden costs. The benefits are just starting to be realized. In terms of occupational safety and health, the lower the exposure, the better.
4. Allow employees to participate in mitigation planning. Having buy in from everyone makes the process palatable and increases the chances of success. This can be as simple as taking a survey on different mitigation techniques.
5. Communicate the reality of Covid-19 without the spin. It will not be here forever. With continued perseverance and action right up to the end, we will get rid of this pandemic. This is important because it emphasizes the fact that there are other hazards that continue to be present. Machine safety, fire protection, fall hazards, confined space, environmental hazards and chemical hazards will continue to be present in applicable workplaces.
I recently visited a client site where Covid-19 mitigations were strictly followed. This essential workplace needed to maintain its available labor and could not afford to lose time due to mass quarantine and severe illness. This approach allowed them to prevent disruptions and sick employees. One thing I observed was improper guarding on a conveyor which allowed employees to access a point of operation. This seemed to be overlooked and not audit or surveillance had taken place on that process for a long time. I have no way of knowing what caused this lack of oversite without investigating it more critically. That beings said, I do know that priorities can shift, and this can be a cause of lack of oversite. We must value certain processes instead of prioritizing them. This way, when priorities shift, our values stay in one place, and our mitigation efforts can last.