IOSH’s 20th free weekly Covid-19 webinar addressed how to manage the dynamic nature of the pandemic, especially work during ‘local lockdowns’ and adjustments needed when situations change.
The webinar was chaired by IOSH Vice-President Louise Hosking. The panellists were IOSH Past-President Craig Foyle CFIOSH, a leading safety consultant; Lucy Robinson, Director of Resources for the East Midlands Chambers of Commerce; and Matthew Jackson, Head of Health, Safety, Environment and Quality at WSP in the Middle East and an IOSH Council Member.
Keeping safe and containing the virus
Organisations should consider the business need to ask people to attend work, stated Lucy Robinson. Whether staff have to travel to workplaces located inside a lockdown area or commute to work in the opposite direction, businesses must make the workplace as safe as possible, through good testing facilities, for example.
By changing work schedules, organisations can reduce contact and transmission between workers. Craig Foyle noted that some companies use thermal imaging, allowing entry only if temperatures are sufficiently low. Matthew Jackson reported strict “no mask, no entry” protocols on some construction sites in the UAE and the use of technology: an app displaying a green QR code after a successful test must be shown before entry to a project site.
Changing the boundary between home and work
While workers may follow the rules and procedures at work, they are also members of the wider population – and must take responsibility for their health and safety outside work. The separation between home and workplace, in terms of viral transmission, has blurred. Although you are not technically at work until you arrive there, your household hygiene arrangements and how you travel to work have a bearing on workplace health and safety.
Multiple sites – working across lockdown boundaries
Where organisations work across different sites – some within a lockdown area and some outside – there must be a common denominator or standard. With the speed and frequency at which local lockdowns are announced and then withdrawn, it’s necessary to stay informed on the latest developments and anticipate the impact on the workforce.
Don’t compromise other health and safety measures
Businesses should not lose sight of the continued need for good health and safety practices beyond Covid-19. While controls may be in place to limit contact points for the transmission of the virus, other safety measures may be compromised – by keeping firedoors wedged open for ventilation, for example. Craig Foyle calls this “playing ‘Covid bingo’.
Communicating with staff
All panellists spoke about mental health as an issue, whether arising from isolation, worries about job security, juggling workloads and pressures of other roles while at home (parent, carer) or the uncertainty of safety in the workplace. One of the challenges Matthew Jackson had experienced in the UAE was dealing with the anxiety of construction workers potentially bringing the virus home to their families, having worked during the day on a site with many other workers.
Panellists pointed to the need for organisations to communicate, have conversations and listen to their workers’ concerns, keeping them connected and engaged.
It’s important to ensure that your organisation has guidelines and communicates clearly your expectations on safe working – at the right time and in the right format for all individuals, suggested Lucy Robinson.
The webinar concluded with positive notes from the panellists: the growing acceptance that people can work productively from home; the change to a more caring culture; and the understanding that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility.
This week, IOSH launches its latest Returning Safely guidance, focusing on managing local lockdowns.
This webinar, and the entire series of Covid-19 webinars run by IOSH, has been recorded and can be viewed on our Covid-19 webinars page.