How Do the New Rules of Health & Safety Affect Training?
A few years ago, the world was a dramatically different place, and so was the workplace. If you had a cold, you wouldn’t think of staying home from work — you might just bring an extra box of tissues with you. You didn’t disinfect your hands whenever you opened a door or entered a store. You probably didn’t think twice about shaking hands with someone you were just meeting, or about hugging an old acquaintance.
Times have changed, however, and the rules of health and safety have evolved to meet the changing risks, especially now that so many employees are back in the office.
What are the risks in 2022?
When you think about the risks of going back to work, chances are your first thoughts are of the actual COVID-19 virus: you know, the disease that changed everything in the first place. However several new workplace concerns have emerged in the last couple of years, and each one deserves some consideration.
- Getting sick: This is the big one, of course. COVID-19 is here to stay, and as transmission rates rise and fall, your workplace will need to do what you can to keep employees safe from getting ill. Your employees may also experience varying levels of concern about getting sick or passing the disease to others. Because not everyone has the same comfort level with illness and safety precautions, this may lead to tension at work.
- Aggressive behavior: Aggressive behavior is on the rise, particularly in service professions. For example, information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that restaurant workers suffered 390 injuries as a result of intentional violence in 2020, while retail workers suffered 1,000 injuries as a result of intentional violence. Bad behavior has also been on the rise in airplanes in the last year, and can certainly make an appearance at other workplaces.
- Mental health: You might think that remote and hybrid work is the answer to some of these problems, but that’s not necessarily the case. As much as remote work helps with many issues, it can both cause and exacerbate existing health issues. A recent study from the University of Southern California Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy found that remote workers were likely to burn out. The study discovered that remote workers worked longer hours than they had worked in traditional office settings. Also, 74% of the workers who responded to the survey said they’d experienced a new mental health issue since they started working remotely, while 55% said they’d experienced two or more new mental health issues.
What can workplaces do to help?
When it comes to health and safety, workplaces have to take the lead. You cannot rely on individuals to make choices consistent with organizational safety. In fact, thanks to rapidly changing transmission rates, it may be difficult for individual employees to know what safety measures they should be implementing at any given moment. Without guidance, they may revert to old ways of doing things (like coming to work sick) and you don’t want that.
For this reason it’s important for companies to create health and safety policies and to communicate those policies clearly to team members.
- Create comprehensive policies: Build a well-thought out set of policies that address the risks you want to minimize and make sure you spell out exactly what you want your employees to do to keep everyone safe and healthy. Do you expect masks at work? How far apart should people sit? When should someone stay home? Don’t assume your team members just automatically know when or how to wash their hands or cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Spell it out, so that everyone understands the expectations.
- Communication is key: Make sure everyone knows what the policies are. Post, distribute and communicate your policies. When they change, make sure everyone knows what the changes are and when those changes go into effect.
- Focus on mental health: Offer mental health services to your workers, both on-site and remote, and be proactive about letting them know how to access the services. The pandemic has been stressful for everyone, so it’s important that mental health is addressed at work. It’s also important to create a culture of well-being within your team. For example, don’t celebrate overwork, and encourage team members to take time off. Burnout is a real problem, and can lead to health problems both physical and mental.
- Learn to read the signs: Be proactive about caring for your employees. If someone seems concerned or anxious about being at work or being in close proximity to other people, check in with them. If a remote worker seems to be burning out, reach out. Make sure you check in with all staff members regularly to offer help.
- Train your staff: These are confusing times. You can help your workers understand topics like self-care and work-life balance, as well as how to handle aggressive customers, by offering ongoing training so that they feel better prepared for risks in the workplace.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things are always changing. Sometimes those changes can be stressful, however, and sometimes those changes come with risks. Learning, however, is always an effective way to combat the unknown. By educating your workforce about difficult situations, you can help them stay safe and healthy in the workplace. Consider some of the training courses available in the Litmos Training Content library in the Health and Safety collection.