NSC National Safety Month 2021: Week 2 – Addressing Ongoing COVID-19 Safety Concerns
06/10/2021 | Greg Duncan, MELP, EHS & Sustainability Expert at VelocityEHS
VelocityEHS is proud to be the exclusive sponsor of the National Safety Council's National Safety Month 2021.
National Safety Month (NSM) is a time for everyone, from EHS professionals and managers to frontline workers, to renew their focus on how we can help build a safer workplace. At the same time, we’re reminded that for over a year now, the entire world has been intensely focused on workplace safety as we’ve struggled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel but as life starts to get back to normal, we all need to remain vigilant and continue to take the necessary precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 so we can defeat this pandemic once and for all.
Employers play a leading role in this effort. Whether you’re an essential business that’s been operating throughout the pandemic or you’re just beginning to open your doors again, it’s important to remember that maintaining workplace safety during COVID-19 takes much more than just disinfecting, PPE and contact tracing. Employers are faced with new and unexpected workplace safety challenges ranging from expanded work-from-home policies, the need to get workers vaccinated, impacts to employee mental health during the pandemic, and so much more.
Workplace COVID-19 Safety Moving Forward
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a whole host of new workplace safety challenges, while also forcing us to confront other long-standing challenges that the pandemic has brought to the forefront. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of the most significant of these risks and connect you with resources to help get a handle on them.
COVID-19 forced many of us out of the workplace and into our new home offices. Over the course of the last year, this has prompted employers to re-evaluate their work-from-home policies, with many choosing a permanent shift toward a more remote workforce. This introduces new and unforeseen risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to workers who may no longer have access to the ergonomic office equipment, training and assessments normally available to them in-office.
This is no small concern, as MSDs have a serious economic impact on employers. In 2020, MSDs accounted for nearly 30 percent of all workers’ compensation costs, and according to the CDC, US companies spent upwards of $50 billion on direct costs of these injuries. OSHA also notes that the indirect costs of these injuries may be up to five times that amount, having negative impacts on worker productivity, satisfaction, and well-being. That’s why it’s so critical that employers give workers the resources they need to minimize or eliminate MSD risks, especially while they’re working from home where there is even less employer visibility and control over MSD risks.
VelocityEHS has compiled some key resources to help those working from home to improve their awareness and control over MSD risks:
- Office Ergonomics online training and self-assessment ensures your home-office workers are set up for maximum health and comfort.
- Access to our ergonomics work-from-home toolbox, which offers resources for employees who are working from home for an extended period of time to help them prevent the risks that lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
- On-demand recording of our ergonomics webinar and Q&A for tips on how to stay healthy and comfortable while working from home
- Download our new infographic: Tips for Working from Home
These are just a select few from our full library of free of ergonomics resources. Visit our EHS Resources page to find more.
Worker Mental Health
Whether working from home or in the workplace, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a serious toll on many workers’ mental health. Uncertainty, anxiety and stress over the pandemic combined with staff reductions, altered shifts, increased production demands and other operational challenges introduce psychosocial risks that, cumulatively, can have a devastating impact on workers’ mental health, productivity, engagement, and even their physical health and safety.
Recent studies in the field of human resource management have revealed some alarming trends in psychosocial risks during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The percentage of American workers who reported feeling happy at work fell from 66% pre-pandemic to 48% as of August 2020.
- A study by HR research firm Limeade showed that 49% of 1,000 employees surveyed reported having less energy for non-work activities, 42% less interest in socializing with friends, 42% more trouble sleeping, 30% increase in employee “burnout", and 33% higher incidence of alcohol or substance use since the beginning of the pandemic
- Principal Financial Group’s Well-Being IndexSM(WBI) showed 44% of business leaders surveyed reporting a decline in employee morale during the pandemic.
Employers need to be attuned to psychosocial risks the same as they would with other more obvious risks to workers’ health. However, psychosocial risks are particularly difficult to identify, assess and control because they often go unnoticed or unreported by workers, and we don’t see the impacts until it’s too late.
One of the key strategies to uncovering psychosocial risks is to more actively engage workers with our EHS programs. Reach out to your workers, involve them in making important decisions about workplace safety, and welcome their feedback, concerns, questions and ideas with open arms in an environment that is free from retaliation or judgement.
VelocityEHS has put together several resources to help employers and workers, alike, recognize psychosocial risks in the workplace and develop sustainable strategies to manage and control them.
Worker Mental Health Resources
- The Future of Work for EHS Professionals (on-demand webinar)
- How ISO 45001 Can Help Manage Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace
New COVID-19 Workplace Standards
Since virtually the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has been under pressure from worker advocates, labor unions and other stakeholders to publish a formal workplace COVID-19 safety standard. Under the previous Administration, OSHA had been reluctant to implement such a standard, despite publishing a steady stream of guidance documents and voluntary best practices for employers. The lack of a federal standard prompted a handful of state OSHA agencies to implement their own state-level COVID-19 workplace requirements, but one of the first actions of the Biden Administration was directing OSHA to move forward with a formal federal standard.
A COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) was initially scheduled to have been published by OSHA back in mid-March. Several delays on this deadline raised questions whether the Agency would follow through on its mandate, but OSHA finally announced on June 9 that it has published a COVID-19 ETS. This long-awaited federal standard will, however, only cover workplaces in the health care industry. OSHA has simultaneously published additional workplace COVID-19 prevention guidance for employers in other industries, and continues to implement its COVID-19 National Emphasis Program which focuses agency enforcement activities and resources on workplaces where the risk of COVID-19 exposure is highest.
Employers in the health care industry would do well to review the draft standard and prepare to implement the hazard and exposure controls specified in the rule. For other employers, the revised guidance should serve as a starting point for ensuring you're taking the necessary steps to protect your workers.
VelocityEHS has been working hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to connect workers and employers with resources that help them keep their workplaces safe. Our COVID-19 Resource Site has steadily grown into a veritable library of articles, agency guidance and best practices, videos, webinars, training courses, workplace posters and other free resources.
Visit our COVID-19 Resource Site to see what’s inside!
Let VelocityEHS Help!
In addition to all the unprecedented workplace health and safety challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, employers must still devote all necessary attention and effort to protecting their workers from more routine, day-to-day workplace risks. It can be easy to feel stretched to the breaking point, and struggle to cover all your bases. That’s where VelocityEHS can help.
Our cloud-based Safety Management Solution delivers versatile safety management capabilities, covering a wide range of the most common safety management tasks — including SDS & chemical management, incident management, inspections, JSAs, safety meeting management, corrective action management and more. We help you centralize and automate key EHS activities, save time, better engage your workers and adapt to constantly evolving regulatory demands – allowing you to take a more proactive approach to safety management.
If you’re looking for a faster, easier, more cost-effective way to manage your day-to-day safety management tasks, and the agility you need to stay ahead in today’s changing regulatory landscape, request a demo today!