In the past year, safety teams at industries throughout the U.S. have had to learn how to adapt through the coronavirus pandemic. For 2021, see how workers have learned from events to improve health and safety.
Understanding, preventing, and responding to COVID-19 in 2020 was a bear of a task for so many workers and businesses. Yet, many are thriving after taking charge of their situation and putting their best team efforts forward. No one knows when this pandemic will end. That's why it's a good idea to look over safety plans for COVID-19. Examine what has been working for the company in 2020 and how to improve those plans for 2021.
Re-examine What Works
How have your COVID-19 prevention plans worked in the past year? Some businesses jumped ahead of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's mass plans. Others waited until given a list of the protocol.
"I feel that our plans worked well," said Linda Cox, a safety professional in Missouri. "We implemented mask use in early April, well before the local government did. We restricted outside contractors and visitors immediately as well to all who were not regulatory related." Cox said her workplace also limited room occupancy and began temperature checks daily. Even with all those precautions, there was only so much that the staff could do.
"We have had many employees on leave for positive results and quarantine for contact, but no cases that originated on-site," she said. "Thankfully, not so many at one time to affect workflows or adequate staffing levels."
Even with the toughest vigilance and following CDC and OSHA best practices, some businesses still faced challenges. For example, Walmart had 270,000 workers take leave in the first few months of the pandemic, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Is there any room for businesses to improve COVID-19 safety plans in 2021?
Room for Improvement
"Our 2020 program has worked well; every job site has a copy," said Chris Urbach, a safety professional in Michigan. He said he utilized CDC and other expert health information when writing his company's COVID-19 safety program. He revised it as information and controls changed.
That flexibility is more pertinent for 2021 as there are new treatments, more accessible testing, and vaccines. Yet, several pandemic protocols will stay the same.
Complete critical reporting accurately and promptly. For example, safety recordkeeping for injury and illness data reporting as part of OSHA compliance.
Conduct frequent risk assessments to make practices and procedures effective as well as safe.
Keep PPE organized and easily accessible.
Continue COVID-19 symptom evaluations and exposure monitoring.
Keep an eye on worker mental health and productivity to stem hostility. Remind workers to take breaks. Share health resources and programs available through the company or public health.
Continue training workers on new procedures and safety best practices. Listen for new ideas to make work more efficient.
A few other concerns safety professionals have in their workplace COVID-19 safety plans is that new procedures can sometimes cause problems. For example, masks can muffle voices. Another example is when there are new traffic patterns, which can confuse. Another problem is that some requirements for safe distancing can be challenging to maintain. While COVID-19 has added some new business expenses, cost-effective tools to meet safety challenges are signs, labels, and floor marking. They can also help create a more efficient workspace.