One of the ‘silver linings’ that has emanated from business operations needing to shut down to protect the health of their employees is the new levels of alignment between HR and H&S leaders.
This is largely due to businesses looking to press the restart button with emergency planning committees that include HR, facilities and H&S (Health and Safety) executives working out timelines, identifying known risks, trying to uncover unknowns, putting in place simple processes and understanding the systems they need to be effective.
For many HR and H&S leaders their 3-step process could look something like:
1. Perform a Risk Assessment and Develop Your COVID-19 Policy.
Look at all the individual activities your employees and customers perform on a day to day basis. Break this down, step by step, and take into account government and safety authority guidance.
2. Put a System in place to Implement your COVID-19 Policy
For a business of less than 50 employees it may be possible to use paper and spreadsheets to manage your health & safety procedures. However, as explained further below, companies with higher volumes of employees, multiple locations and situations where you are bringing in outside maintenance contractors need to look at alternatives to do the heavy lifting for you.
3. Test All Your Policies and Monitor For Updates
All controls in your policies need to be fully tested in as close to a real scenario as possible.
By now, government guidelines will have been scrutinized and plans developed on how the physical distancing of employees will work in a variety of scenarios and locations. What will become apparent over the coming weeks is that physical distancing is just the tip of a health and safety iceberg. What will become obvious is that the HR and Health & Safety functions will have to design processes together, like never before, to navigate their business away from the nightmare scenario of having to shut down operations again.
The hidden problem is that much of the focus is going into the short term planning of employees returning to offices or sites and the wider, day to day, activities of a business in 6 to 12 months’ time are potentially being swept under the carpet. As a result there’s a real danger that if HR and H&S don’t plan right now for the time when operations will seem more normal then there is the danger that processes that take into account visitors and contractors won’t happen in a timely manner.
To give some context, just think of the time that you’ve gone through a large building, DIY or home improvement project at home. The dust, the constant disruption, the noise and the stress are probably still vivid in your memory. What you may also remember is the small things left at the end of the project that you’ll get round to when you feel ready again. The question is; how long before you got round to fixing the small jobs? Have they been fixed at all?
The difference with COVID-19 is that after stage 1 of the ‘Return to work’ process, where employees (some or all) are back on site, you can’t afford to leave for tomorrow the job of making sure proper compliance processes are in place for any external visitor or contractor that may cause infection within your employee group.
It is for these reasons that HR teams must gain a more immediate understanding of the health and safety systems in the market that will protect their employees from the dangers of COVID-19 being brought on-site. It is also why HR cannot view the health and safety of their employees in isolation.
Of course, pre-COVID-19, the vast majority of HR and facilities leaders already had strong controls in place for visitors and contractors. There is the visitor register with duplicate logging of who is on-site, and an on-site safety training document to be read or safety video that needs to be seen. Where contractors come on site for maintenance reasons there’s probably a great on-site safety induction session and a rigorous paper Permit To Work system.
All of these will work perfectly in a post COVID-19 world, won’t they?
Well, no actually.
From here on, the protection of your employees’ health and safety has to start well before anyone arrives back on site. To enable this without creating significantly more work for all parties, all HR teams will have to look at alternatives to their current paper / excel / whiteboard systems. In short, you will need an electronic system that meets 3 key criteria:
1) Scalable according to need and employee volumes being managed
2) Flexible so that any changes to regulations and processes can be made quickly and centrally.
3) Includes controls that take into account all parties entering your site(s) that carry risks to the health and safety of your employee base.
Up until now these health and safety solutions may have been the preserve of businesses needing to manage potentially hazardous environments. The simple fact is that every business, large or small, is now a potentially hazardous environment.
As a result HR leaders need to not just align their thinking with facilities and H&S leaders but gain a greater understanding of exactly how electronic COVID-19 controls can help them control access and the work of people that they may not have had to worry about too much in the past – visitors and contractors (cleaning staff, maintenance, technical, etc.).
Below are key questions that HR leaders need to ask themselves, their facilities teams and their H&S colleagues:
• Can we adequately train employees and any external worker or visitor before they come anywhere close to being in contact with the office or other employees? Assuming we can, is it then possible to have a digital record that they passed the training so that access to our site can be granted?
• How easy is it going to be for us to be absolutely sure that all employees and regular visitors are compliant and knowledgeable of our processes on an ongoing basis? Because we don’t want an unmanageable amount of work how can we easily schedule regular compliance training (weekly is recommended) or make sure everyone views a new health & safety video because government regulations have changed?
• How can we be sure that the workers of any contracting company we use are being trained to the same standards that we expect? Is it possible to get our contracting companies to simply fill in a compliance questionnaire?
• How can we adapt all our paper Permit To Work processes for contractors so that work assignments, approval processes, PPE checks and safety processes can be completed without all necessary parties being in the same location or needing to use a physical pen for legal sign-off / auditing purposes?
• How can we make sure that any external visitor to our site can prove they have the necessary documentation to come on site and how can we give our reception or security people the ability to simply carry out compliance checks?
• How do we overcome the challenge of quickly notifying any external visitor or vendor company in the situation where one of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19? How can we quickly identify who is at risk in terms of potentially coming into contact in the same location?
Many of these critical questions may be new to HR leaders but these are very different times. Once again though, it is vital that HR and H&S understand that they are not just having to plan for these times but also for future times as well.
Happily, there are two distinct advantages that HR & H&S have now than ever before. Firstly, the right teams to solve the challenges are working together. Secondly, the technology is out there to help. It’s mature, it’s proven, it’s often easy to implement and it’s affordable. Especially when you consider the cost of the alternative.