Employers have reported a lower recordable injury rate and a decreased number of near-miss incidents due to an increased focus on health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released by the National Safety Council (NSC). However, some organizations also reported that the focus on pandemic-related risks sometimes took attention away from traditional day-to-day risks.
The NSC conducted in-depth interviews with health and safety and medical experts in 13 industries for its “State of the Response: The Future World of Work” report. The NSC noted that continuing remote work, an increased focus on both flexible work arrangements and mental health, and a renewed commitment to workplace safety are the most impactful workplace changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group released earlier reports on employer responses and state actions taken to address workplace safety and health hazards during the pandemic.
“We must be agile in our response to adversity, work together to break down silos within our organizations, and prioritize safety–both physical and psychological–above all else,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said in a statement.
Those surveyed by the NSC reported that the reality of the pandemic forced previously “siloed” managers in different departments in their organizations to “get on the same page” to address health and safety risks.
“The way in which people, organizations and industries work has forever changed,” Martin continued. “This crisis has uncovered an innovative new way of working, while laying bare many challenges that have jeopardized the safety of our workforce.”
A move toward remote work—the “innovative new way of working”—was one of the most significant changes brought on by the pandemic. Some organizations were quick to make the transition to remote work environments and found that their workforce became even more productive.
Some organizations now intend to make remote work a permanent fixture of their organizations. However, experts surveyed for the report insisted that employers must ensure that remote employees have the same support and access to resources as on-site employees.
Business travel radically changed during the pandemic, according to those surveyed. Nonessential business travel has effectively stopped, and the risks to employees and productivity have forced many organizations to redefine “essential” business travel.
The report encouraged employers to review pandemic response plans as regularly as fire, earthquake, and other emergency preparedness plans despite the infrequency of pandemics. Several of those interviewed reported that their organizations were not well-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. The possibility and the implications of a pandemic had not been prominent considerations for many safety and health professionals, according to the NSC.
Some organizational changes that had been developing for years accelerated due to or during the pandemic, according to the NSC. Evolving issues include changes in organizational design such as flexibility, autonomy, and work/life balance; technology, including industrial Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and smart manufacturing; and demographic changes in the workforce, like an aging workforce and diversity and inclusion.
The NSC is a professional organization and an advocacy group focused on eliminating leading causes of preventable death and injury in the workplace and on roadways. Its next annual Safety Congress & Expo will be held virtually March 1–5, 2021.