Safe Return to Work

22 May 2024

Governments the world over responded with an array of actions to battle the spread of COVID-19, including the restriction of many business activities and limiting the movement of hundreds of millions of people. But the economic consequences of these measures have undoubtedly hit home for all. This has been especially true in oil-dependent states where the collapsing oil prices have coupled the adverse COVID-19 effects to further exacerbate the economic situation.

The need for a COVID-19 prevention and protection plan

As many countries carefully and progressively begin to ease lockdowns and allow most commercial and industrial activities to reopen, health and safety will need to be at the forefront of every business’ strategy regardless of their risk profile. Whether a company has thousands of employees with operations centering around the smelting of metal at 800°C, or a retail mom-and-pop shop with a mere 2 employees, COVID-19 has brought with it a new reality that will require all companies to put some serious thought in the way they do business. Failing to do so will not only put employees and non-employees at risk but may even threaten the entire existence of an operation fairly quickly. A COVID-19 incident can mean several weeks of downtime and the potential loss of customers resulting from reputational damage, which are traditional costs linked with workplace accidents. But there are other costs that can come with an infected employee as well such as facility disinfection fees, the testing of all potentially exposed employees, and the associated time it takes to receive results, to name but a few. Add up all of these costs every time an employee is infected and one can quickly appreciate how expensive it can be not to have a solid COVID-19 prevention and protection plan in place. To make conditions even more challenging, there are variables that lie outside of the realm of the business that can be extremely difficult to control. So, though companies can install sanitizing tunnels and impose temperature checks, social distancing rules, and the wearing of masks while on company grounds, controlling how employees protect themselves outside of work may not be possible. This is especially true when we consider the dynamics of shared employee accommodation, which is a prevalent model in many parts of the world.

The new reality

Though the reopening of businesses is a much-welcomed initiative to ensure the continuity of our economies, it should not be assumed that this is a return to the ways of old. Companies of all shapes and sizes must bring health and safety to the center stage of their agendas now more than ever. Whether this means transforming jobs to work from home positions, where possible, to minimize risk or launching serious and comprehensive mental health programs to deal with the increasing stress and anxiety the “new normal” has brought and will continue to bring, businesses need to reopen with a new mode of thinking if they intend to be around when and if the COVID-19 era passes.

Islam Adra is a HSSE professional and advocate as well as an award-winning 2020 top ten OSH influencer and past IOSH Chair with more than 12 years’ experience in high-risk industries including construction, oil & gas, and manufacturing. Specializing in culture change, he has a proven track record in developing and implementing culture-boosting management systems for numerous Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 companies. His PhD candidature and entertaining videos about everything business-related earn him regular invitations to speak at conferences and judge prestigious awards.

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