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How covid-19 upended the world of worker safety

In the last few years, worker safety has fought its way to become a point of CxO discussion. As more and more statistics paint a sorry picture of workplace safety, organizations across industries have slowly upped their game in trying to ensure their workers are safe. But it’s fair to say that progress has been slower than it should have been.

However, COVID-19 has upended the world of worker safety. In addition to its far-reaching impact on every other aspect of the business landscape, the bearing it has had on worker safety has been huge. Read on to find out why!

Rajat Bhuyan

Published on Sep 16, 2020

Worker health has become paramount for operational continuity

Pre-COVID, overall worker health, and well-being were never given a lot of importance; ailing workers with minor symptoms were still expected to report to work to ensure business operations weren’t impacted. However, all that has now changed, thanks to the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought about a positive change in this context. Today, the pandemic has made it clear that without a COVID-free work environment, businesses cannot have a functional operating environment.

The impact of COVID was evidently visible in the meat-packing industry. In the month of May, several coronavirus hotspots in the US were linked to meat processing plants; poor social distancing norms led to infections spiking, prompting urgent health and safety action. Keeping workers safe and free from the virus has become paramount for operational success.

Even at a strategic level, it became clear to CxOs that the operating strategy was inextricably linked to worker safety. When one infection can bring the production line to a grinding halt, it becomes crucial to focus on the safety of each individual rather than talk about overall strategies and numbers.

Worker resistance to monitoring has reduced

Despite the known and far-reaching benefits of data, workers across industries have shown immense resistance to being monitored. The pervasive nature of surveillance technology has never gone too well with workers, with most feeling threatened about their privacy. But the pandemic has made it apparent that there are situations that are larger than individuals and that these situations need more comprehensive and detailed strategies to address. This has helped drive the acceptance that systems are needed to monitor individuals in the interest of protecting everybody. They’re more open to the idea of real-time monitoring because they understand that data is a friend and the more the data, the better their health and safety can be guaranteed through complete strategies.

It’s clear that prevention is better than cure

For a very long time, the business world has been taking a reactive approach to workplace accidents and mishaps. In the absence of tools and systems that can provide actionable intelligence, industries could only take remediation steps after an incident has occurred. But that’s also changed in the COVID-era.

The pandemic has made it crystal clear that prevention is better than cure; lockdowns and social distancing norms have greatly helped in flattening the curve. The same holds true in the workplace; instead of taking reactive steps to ensure worker safety, businesses have to be extremely proactive to prevent accidents before they occur. And the only way they can do this is by embracing systems that provide situational context, real-time perspective, and insights that can be acted on immediately.

Personal safety is no longer sufficient; community safety is imperative

Before the days of COVID, workers (and humans in general) were largely concerned about their own health and their own safety – and of their immediate family. But in a COVID era, it’s no longer enough to be safe at the personal level – it’s necessary to be safe at the community level.

Individuals used to justify their antipathy to being monitored by pointing to their skill and expertise. They were “good enough” to take care of themselves, so why was there a need for any monitoring or tracking? However, worker resistance to being monitored has changed post-COVID. The realization has dawned that even if they take every precaution themselves, an infection in the wider community poses a threat to them too.

Thankfully, the pandemic has made workers realize how data works as a bridge between personal protection and community protection. What was earlier “am I keeping myself safe” has now become “if my colleagues are not safe, even I won’t be safe” – setting the foundation of safety at a much broader level. Businesses will now be required to assess existing health and safety measures, identify gaps, and develop and implement action plans.

Industries need the right digital tools to ensure safety

COVID-19 also showcased the importance of having the right digital tools to ensure health and safety as well as to support remote operations. Digital tools have helped healthcare and essential services companies identify affected patients, trace contacts, and prevent and contain the spread of the disease. They have also helped remote workers communicate and collaborate with peers and access corporate networks to carry out daily tasks - as the world worked from home.

The pandemic has made the business world realize that without the right digital tools, continuous operations and worker safety cannot be achieved. In a connected world, technology is what will enable businesses to enhance operational efficiency, increase worker awareness, enable safety, and prevent mishaps from happening.

Find a way out

If there is one thing COVID-19 has made us realize, it is that there are no perennial solutions. Even if a vaccine is developed or herd immunity is achieved, the pandemic is here to stay. Operating processes will have to change at a granular level; social distancing will become a part of the SOP, safety equipment will change to include masks, and rosters will be transformed. But more fundamental changes have set in. Businesses can make people aware, but they have to find a way to institutionalize good behavior using modern digital tools and actionable intelligence to stay safe.

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