After two years of work-from-home, most companies are gearing up to return to the office. While this return to normalcy could be a welcome change, it does come with potential risks (both old and new). On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, it may be time to look at Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in our post-pandemic workplaces.
OHS and sustainable development
United Nations SDG3 pushes for healthy life and well-being for all ages. While national healthcare policies are being improved and implemented, workplaces need to align with this goal. The reason is simple: healthy employees have higher productivity. Additionally, employees that feel looked after by their companies report higher job satisfaction. This means that companies that improve OHS are less likely to lose experienced employees in the long run. It can prove especially helpful to SMEs.
On a broader level, this will lead to social well-being and better economic growth. Really, it is a win-win situation with a high ROI.
What is World Day for Safety and Health at Work?
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) first observed World Day for Safety and Health at Work in 2003. The International Labour Conference held in June of that year laid out a strategy for OHS. The Global Strategy on Occupational Safety and Health uses advocacy, practical management, and technical cooperation to create an impact.
This day is set aside to build awareness about employee rights and promote preventive safety measures in the workplace.
How can employers improve safety measures in a workplace?
They say prevention is better than cure, which holds true in a work environment. It is necessary to remember that every workplace is different, and thus, safety measures need to be carefully curated to suit the employees’ needs.
So, what kind of health and safety measures do our workspaces need?
Ensuring physical safety
First and foremost, it is crucial to ensure the physical security and well-being of everyone in an office. After a couple of years of disuse, it is important to inspect the company’s infrastructure.
- Examine everything from wiring and leakages to the strength of safety structures (like handrails).
- Ensure that your hallways are well lit and cameras are in working order.
- It may also be time to audit resources like PPE and heavy machinery in high-risk workplaces.
- With the continued presence of COVID-19, enforce rules around masks, social distancing and health monitoring.
- Set up sanitation stations, clearly marked first aid kits, and offer free safety equipment like gloves if needed.
- When possible, organise vaccination drives and aid in distributing booster shots among employees.
Safeguarding mental well-being
If anything, the pandemic has moved the spotlight onto mental health issues worldwide. Reports of depression and anxiety are rising around the world, and ensuring employees’ mental well-being is just as important. On that note, it is time to implement policies that help reduce stress during work hours.
- Encourage employees to take regular breaks and engage in stress-relieving activities.
- Set up game rooms or common rooms for people who need to take a breather.
- If your employees work overtime, compensate them financially.
- Consider offering counselling services on the premises.
- Reexamine your company’s leave policy. Policies like infinite sick leaves allow employees time to recuperate without fear of repercussions.
- Special day-offs like menstrual leaves can also help anyone who needs it.
- The pandemic has shown the effectiveness of WFH. Allow your employees the option to continue working from home.
- Improve and implement stricter anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies with the safeguard of anonymity.
Improving safety protocols and safeguards
Additionally, every workspace should have safety protocols in case of an emergency. Companies should communicate these protocols to the employees. In fact, it is prudent to formulate safety measures through open discussions with employees. Run safety drills to prepare your employees to act in a worst-case scenario. Drills on fire safety or medical emergencies can help save lives.
In post-pandemic work life, it is vital to create a safe, blended work environment. Companies that understand the importance of work-life balance are more likely to have healthy and happy employees. This allows employees breathing room to focus on gainful work hours rather than simply counting the clock.
World Day for Safety and Health at Work is observed to raise awareness about workplace safety. As an ongoing issue, the definition of safety is constantly evolving. When in doubt, it is always a good idea to ask your employees for areas to improve OHS policies. Only through open dialogue and cooperation can we build safe, resilient, and sustainable workplaces.