(Originally posted on Jan 31, 2021)
We all recognise the importance of health in our lives, now more than ever. If you missed this lesson during the first wave, be sure to catch up during the second wave. But wait, there is no time for despair. Time is of the essence to keep your business ahead of the challenges that are ahead. The economy will take a very long time to recover from this global downturn, but as in all circumstances, certain businesses and industries will still thrive.
The resilience of these companies does not lie in the market they are in, it sustains and grows because of their ability to adapt to the changing needs of the world. Change is not easy for everyone. The fighters and barrier breakers push the limits in these times, creating dimensions that were already meant to exist but did not get the chance before. One such dimension that has been struggling to make the mainstream shift in organisational structure is Health, Safety and Wellbeing. As an Occupational Medicine professional with a tenacity for prevention, I must group all three as part of the same dimension. For decades we have seen the increase in ‘Safety’ as an important part of every industry, but this has often overshadowed Health and Wellbeing. The facts through research have always shown that companies with strong cultures of health, safety and wellbeing through the engagement of their employees, are more successful not only in profits but also in reducing injuries and sickness absence in their workers. Bringing this back to COVID 19, we are facing a health challenge very different to the challenges studied in the past. We all face lack of manpower and limiting our services due to restrictions aiming at decreasing the spread of this novel virus. But are we aware of all the possible measures that exist to help manage the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers? Safety measures such as hand-washing facilities and policies, wearing of masks and allowing social distancing are some of the lowest forms of protection one can take. These are very much needed in the social environment as we carry on with our daily lives, but in terms of the workplace, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Every industry and workplace setting has specific needs, this has always been the case and in these extraordinary times, tailoring your business strategy and plan to survive and evolve is even more imperative. Areas needing adjustment in these times stem from the management of Human Resources and the continuity of Operations. The most vital step one can take is eliminating the source of the problem. By removing the hazard, the risk dissipates. The hazard lies in the individual tasks or steps within the operation that are most prone to viral spreading. As COVID 19 spreads by both aerosol and surface contamination, every aspect of the operations should be viewed in this light. Simple tasks such as removing all unnecessary items from the work environment such as shared tissue boxes, photos and stationary can be part of this elimination process. For operationally sensitive tasks, could it be done remotely or is there a way of working around that step without creating a new risky situation? Substituting the task for a less risky one, does not eliminate the risk but it adheres to decreasing the potential of spread. These are some of the Administrative controls one can consider using to decrease the risk. Other Administrative Controls revolve around the human resources aspect involving staff scheduling and creating an environment of trust and care where workers feel comfortable in disclosing either symptoms or even contact with COVID positive persons. This level of trust is very significant because of the direct and indirect effects it has on the costs incurred by your organisation. Health screening and creating working teams for those industries where workers need to be on-site can be useful strategies in building trust. Readjusting work schedules to limit the rotation of tasks can also help with decreasing exposure. Educating your employees about these changes and seeking their perspectives are crucial in ensuring that new recommendations are adhered to, and it also aids in ensuring a productive environment. Using these techniques will form an excellent base to increase team morale, especially in these crazy times where individual tensions are high because of the many social and financial circumstances we have all found ourselves in. Introducing mindfulness, self-help techniques and providing Occupational Health support for employees are just a few investments an employer can make to ensure their staff and their business stay afloat in these plummeting financial times. To the employers and managers who have already taken a proactive approach in navigating through these unchartered waters, the Occupational Health experts rally with you as this is only the beginning of a long, rewarding and lucrative future as we gaze beyond into the next decade. The tips and solutions mentioned here are only a few and will not work as a blanket for every industry or company. These are here to help encourage your thinking, to open your eyes and lift the covers over any obstacles that may be present. If you or your company require more specialised advice, please reach out. Our network at Noor Corporate Health Ltd can provide you with international expertise, with solutions fitting to the unique culture of Trinidad and Tobago. Written by: Dr. Farah Ahmed.