The recent announcements on the process to lift current COVID-19 restrictions have been welcomed and provide hope for many after a long period of uncertainty. However, what is already clear is a return to the way things were before the lockdown is likely well over a year away, and many aspects of our working life may be changed forever, writes Alastair Brooke, founder of Safety Evolved.
At Safety Evolved we are calling these changes to BAU (Business as Usual), the BA-New.
All employers have a duty of care under Work Health & Safety (WHS) law to provide a safe workplace, but now this includes ensuring workplaces minimise the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Based on what we already know, here are 5 Key WHS changes in the BA-New;
Offices need to adapt
With social distancing guidelines, most offices will be reduced to around 25% capacity and layouts will need to be addressed to eliminate bottlenecks like one-way hallways. Cleaning and disinfection regimes will need to be upgraded particularly for shared workspaces.
Smart technology will need to be employed to scan temperature on entry, record who is in the office and for how long and proximity and identity sensors to open doors (especially with door handles being a key infection risk in high traffic areas).
The biggest bottleneck will be lifts in existing buildings as they have been designed to move as many people as possible – this is now a thing of the past. Concierges and automation will manage queues for lifts in large buildings to eliminate the need for button pushing and staggered starts / finishes will be implemented to get everyone in and out.
Working from home is here to stay
Given the limited capacity of offices, working from home will be the norm for at least part of the time for employees who do not need to be in the office.
While most organisations have adapted quickly, some of the measure taken are temporary in nature. These organisations will need to quickly formalise their policies and procedures and ensure workers have a safe working environment including; light, heating, correct ergonomics and regular communication.
Digital tools and techniques will be required to support health monitoring for things like fatigue, anxiety and mental health and provide the opportunity to intervene early and mitigate any incidents arising.
Plan for the worst
With the risk of exposure, comes the possibility of infection. We have already seen reports of cluster infections at workplaces and workers compensation cases being raised for COVID-19 exposure.
Businesses need to plan for their response to a situation where a worker becomes infected or is even suspected – early notification and intervention is critical! You will need to notify all other workers who have had contact to be tested and self-isolate as well as relevant authorities. You may also be required to shut down operations and undergo a full disinfection regime. Then be prepared for an audit from regulatory authorities and be ready to produce evidence of compliance with your comprehensive COVID-19 safe plan. Effective WHS systems and software will help ensure compliance.
Change is the new normal
While there has been so much change already, this is only the beginning. As the economy opens up and we understand more about the virus, regulations will change, and this will continue in the months and years to come to ensure we are ready for the next pandemic. Wider implications in the economy and supply chains will also require a rethink of how many businesses will continue to operate. Digital tools and techniques that help organisations navigate these changes faster, better cheaper and most importantly safer will be key to success.
Digital WHS tools will become standard
All these measures will need to be part of a COVID-19 Safe Work Plan that will need to be documented, shared and adapted over time with all employees in response to changing requirements.
Intuitive WHS Software and digital tools will automate many of these processes. They will need to integrate closely with our core systems of work and be accessible on any device, anywhere at any time and be able to be changed and configured quickly by business users in response to situations, rather than waiting for code to be crunched by software developers. The good news is these tools are already available.