Coronavirus has caused the largest decline in economic health since the second world war; a contraction three times greater than that caused by the '08-'09 crash. But economic risk is equalled by never before seen levels of occupational risk, even in traditionally safe working environments. Employees in shops, restaurants, and offices are on the frontline as businesses seek to re-open. But as businesses react to the threat of COVID-19, it is paramount that employees remain protected by a holistic EHS management system. After all, 'traditional' Health & Safety risks are still present in the workplace, and should not be ignored despite new pandemic threats.
Protection beyond compliance
COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on employee health & safety. Businesses that may never have filed an incident report find themselves in murky waters. Many have responded by implementing EHS management systems, in a desperate effort to manage and understand the threat of COVID-19. In the UK, the HSE has made it clear that workplace exposure to the virus is a prosecutable offence. Yet businesses are not only responsible for preventing the spread of the virus; they also must protect remotely working employees, providing at home risk assessments and appropriate equipment. Under the headline issue of the pandemic spread, a whole new risk environment has been created by new workplace realities. So how can businesses protect employees from all sources of risk, beyond headline issues?
As businesses get a grip on the realities of working during the pandemic, unforeseen areas of risk threaten employee safety. With the need for social distancing, reduced staff on site, and new PPE requirements, normal tasks take on unexpected risks. Any business that wants to proactively protect their employees needs a system that can balance COVID-19 risk with preexisting issues like Emex. For the construction worker, reduced staff may make it more difficult to carry out day to day tasks, exposing them to an increased chance of injury.
Holistic EHS Management
The pandemic has acted as a catalyst, flagging the need for proactive EHS management to keep businesses operational. But the virus is only one area of risk, one which will eventually disappear. Management have to take a holistic view of risk management if they want to properly protect employees, acknowledging pre-existing areas of risk as well as new challenges that occur. If they do not, unreactive businesses will not be able to respond to the next risk event on the horizon.