• Leah Norman

Health & Safety in times of Covid, and beyond.

There is no doubting that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on businesses in different ways, but the one thing that has been consistently highlighted is the importance of managing workplace health and safety and protecting our most vulnerable. And while we are now sitting comfortable in Alert Level 1, the raw reality has been a huge wake-up call for all organisations and people all across New Zealand. In some ways, it is like the conversation about the risk of a fatality in the workplace - the chances of it happening are rare, but it can (and does) happen.

Covid-19 has created an exceptional set of circumstances and many employees and employers alike, have had to navigate concerns about working safely through the different Alert Levels, especially for our Essential Workers, and those who have since returned to work as government restrictions eased.

For the majority of our clients, like most operations, there has always been an element of risk associated with what they do, be it site based construction, adventure tourism, or farm based activity. And while the additional risks brought about by Covid-19 have forced us all to pause, think and to introduce extra health & safety measures such as physical distancing and best-practice hygiene, it appears that, from a health and safety standpoint, many were better prepared than they realised.

Organisations that already had robust business continuity and contingency plans, a strong health and safety culture backed up by a solid management plan, good communication channels and a leadership team that are decisive, agile, and accepting of the situation are probably doing okay. 

So what does the future of Workplace Health and Safety, post-Covid look like?

It goes without saying that the health, safety and wellbeing of our workforce needs to remain a top priority.  With that in mind I believe that the future will, most likely, be more of the same. A continuation of the good that is currently being practiced in our workplaces every day. The actions that have been taken to ensure workplace hygiene and cleanliness that we have seen achieved are here to stay. That along with people slowing down, taking breaks and staying home when they are unwell to prevent the spread of bugs.

We will also likely see an increase in the understanding of general workplace health and safety responsibilities and the specific accountabilities shared by individual employees as they continue to work from home or enjoy the benefits of flexible working practises. This is also an area where employer health and safety management will need to strengthen and higher levels of monitoring are required.

More and more organisations are now beginning to realise is that effective health, safety and wellbeing isn’t about ticking boxes, but that instead it’s about making sure people are healthy and safe every day, ensuring a good risk-based safety management system is in place and being executed by employees equipped with the right skills and knowledge they need. It is about embedding an ongoing dialogue and organistaional culture so that self-aware, positive behaviour is lived and breathed in the normal course of doing great work.

Further, active employee engagement (essentially a live feedback loop) to support continuous improvement is, and will remain, a key ingredient to remaining agile and moving a company further along the health and safety maturity curve. Regularly remeasuring and refocussing on the emerging issues that are most critical to each company in its unique operating context will ensure deeper, sustainable wins are achieved.

So all in all, while strong business continuity plans are essential, it is important not to discount the impact of primary focus on the wellbeing of employees and a management team who are prepared to work together without question for the health and safety of their people. Because, while we are not out of the woods yet, our 2020 experience shows us that these organisations are likely to experience a swift recovery to any potentially catastrophic event; it’s the people and the planning that get you through the tough times.

Disclaimer This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

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