Returning to Work: What Employers Need to Consider When It Comes to Safety & Health
Betsey Kulakowski, CSHO, COSS
COVID-19 is on the forefront of every business leader’s minds these days. No reputable business person wants to put their staff in harm’s way. Balancing economics and safety has always been a juggling act, but now, more than ever, it is a tightrope act.
Many employers are facing budget shortfalls along with additional expenses related to their COVID-19 response. Some may think cutting the safety budget is necessary to stay afloat. But now, more than ever, safety is a much-needed line-item in your budget. You still have a duty under the law to provide a safe and healthful workplace, free from recognized hazards.
As a Safety Professional, and a business leader I loathe the term Safety First. That tells me employers are thinking of safety as a priority, rather than an operational value. Why does it matter? Priorities change from minute-to-minute and hour-to -our, but values never change. In order to be fully effective, safety and health has to be an integral core value to any organization in order to be fully effective.
Returning to work in the Age of COVID-19 brings many new challenges, but it is important to remember, that COVID-19 is only one hazard. All the same safety and health concerns we faced before, are still there. Additionally, restoring operations in a facility or factory that sat idle for many months poses additional challenges. Equipment and infrastructure can suffer from the effects of time. Plumbing systems need to be flushed, machines need to be serviced, HVAC systems may fail. Having a comprehensive management of change plans that include preventative maintenance and restart procedures is essential.
It is a lot for any business leader to manage. Just know, you are not alone. There are resources available to help businesses safely return to operations. Recently, the National Safety Council assembled a group of industry and safety experts to form the SAFER Return to Work Committee. This nation-wide committee, comprised of large and small Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, legal experts, public health professionals, and government agency representatives had delivered resources to equip employers with the tools they need to protect workers during this time of uncertainty. NSC is urging the US Department of Labor to adopt the SAFER framework as part of its Opening America’s Workplaces Again. These resources are available at NSC’s website at: https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/safe-actions-for-employee-returns-safer
It just makes good business sense to have a robust safety and health management system. As we return to work, let us make sure that worker safety and health remains a key operational value. Do not forget, June is National Safety Month. It is an excellent time to begin or renew your commitment to safety and health.
The Oklahoma Safety Council, the local Chapter of the National Safety Council, provides a wide array of workplace safety training programs, including programs specific to the petrochemical industry and oil and gas production. Additionally, defensive driving programs, including online defensive driving courses are available. More information on upcoming courses and other resources are available at www.oksafety.org. Additional resources may also be found through OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov.
About the Author: With 30 years of experience as a safety professional and a degree in Emergency Management, Betsey Kulakowski serves as the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Safety Council.