As I sit here on this cold snowy spring day in Colorado, I am looking out my patio door thinking back to a not so distant day of lounging in the warm Florida sun. The virus loomed outside our borders then. It is here now, and our personal and professional lives have certainly changed. As we sit and think about how rapidly everything is taking place, the future is developing just as quickly as the virus that brought us here in the first place. The actions we take today to get ahead and influence that future could be the difference between prosperity and failure.
As an Occupational Safety and Health professional I have been watching in awe as many strategic plans have been put on hold or eliminated altogether. As crisis gripped society organizational leaders went into survival mode and turned in on themselves. It is time now to take a deep breath, tweak those strategic plans, and double down on achieving them to come out ahead of the competition. Organizational focus on health, safety, and employee wellness will be critical to achieving sustained excellence and distinguishing world class leaders.
Some of the current issues and those coming down the pipeline are not new. COVID-19 is just amplifying problems we already know exist. For example, we have proven evidence that fatigue is responsible for poor decision making, reaction time, and is reciprocal to stress. Right now, people around the world are experiencing extreme stress, distraction, and fatigue. Due to rapid changes in the way we live, job loss, and potentially loss of loved ones, that fact is not likely to change soon. In addition, many organizations have systematically or abruptly laid off entire work teams, and those experienced employees might not be available when it is time to ramp back up. Organizations may be in a position of hiring inexperienced workers which can lead to incidents, especially if mentor programs are lacking (something I have seen repeatedly in the oil and gas industry during booms). Organizations that are still operating at full capacity are not out of the woods and may experience the impacts of COVID-19 years from now. I recently had a conversation with a man who lost the money he needed to retire, and he will now remain in the workforce. Those who are retired may also be forced to return to work, and an already aging workforce will grow. So, how will you work today to prevent the foreseeable issues that might plague your organization a month from now or maybe years from now?
Here are some actions you can be taking now to promote wellness, safety and health among your work force:
Implement fatigue identification software.
Identify areas where wearable technology can be used to establish controls to reduce the risks of musculoskeletal injuries and improve efficiency in operations.
Take some time to re-evaluate your post offer employment testing to ensure the physical demands of the job match the physical demands being evaluated
Get your data off paper and out of spreadsheets so you can use your time solving more problems rather than simply identifying them.
Begin your journey toward ISO 45001 implementation.
If you don’t have a strategy for helping people and mitigating risks, gather some evidence, develop a strategic plan and deliver it to leaders in your organization.
Talk about your successes in house and publicly! There is a huge audience, and your stories might help others improve their HSE programs and may even attract new business. While other leaders are turning in, focus your attention on the long term to get a step ahead.
Things have changed, but we don’t have to lay down and quit. Now more than ever, we need to pull ourselves and our businesses up to thrive in a new landscape. You might be starting with the basics or in a place to drive forward with more sophisticated strategies to reduce risk, save lives, and impact the bottom line. Regardless of where you are today, the actions taken now are going to be the difference between failure and excellence for years to come.