Trends to tackle in an occupational health and safety system

How to keep your occupational health and safety system on top of today’s top trends.

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by Elaine Ye

Occupational health and safety (OHS) systems certainly aren’t new, but evolving risks are constantly reinventing what makes them most effective. Marking that evolution year over year, is the UN World Day for Safety and Health at Work (28 April). The day promotes the shared responsibility of us all – governments, employers, and workers – to prevent occupational accidents and the spread of diseases. And fulfilling that responsibility comes back time and again to how well our tools and systems can keep up with the changing OHS landscape.

This year, the UN’s agency International Labour Organization used the World Day to present strategies for anticipating, preparing, and responding to crises, with an emphasis on the importance of investing in a resilient national OHS management. But how to be resilient at the employer level? Looking through our global regulatory lens, we give you 3 ideas for optimizing your OHS system alongside top trends.

Keep learnings from COVID-19 in your long-term OHS outlook

While before COVID-19, businesses knew the importance of being prepared, the recent health crisis shed new light on what to prepare for. To mitigate massive impact on their business and employees’ day-to-day work, organizations scrambled to adapt (and even adopt) related emergency plans and learned that to be truly prepared, they must expand their perspective (and planning) of the unexpected.

First that means updating plans and protocols to incorporate many COVID-19 regulations that are poised  to stay in place. But businesses should also look to leverage this new understanding of emergencies and best practices beyond COVID-19-related protection. They can use recent safety measures as guidelines for anticipating future health issues, and for developing policies and plans to address rapidly arising hazards.

Count teleworking and temporary contractors into your occupational health and safety system

The recent increase in teleworking and unclear obligations for temporary contractors have expanded the scope of OHS past traditional worker concerns. Today, employers’ responsibility for worker well-being reaches beyond the worksite, requiring employers to consider health and safety risks for workers no matter where they work – or how they’re engaged with the company. As part of the many changes brought on by COVID-19, many organizations adapted to the new normal of working from home, some even shutting down their office sites. Nevertheless, employers are still bound by the general duty of care to ensure employee health and safety, wherever they work. And that task is more challenging in the sometimes harder-to-manage conditions of home workspaces. As home and work merge together in the same space, OHS systems will need to account for how to prevent related ergonomic, mental health, and stress issues. To remain compliant, businesses should incorporate all teleworking-related regulations and risks into their OHS systems – both for permanent vs. part-time remote working.

At home or onsite, temporary contractors also present potential, often unforeseen, risk. Even more so because this type of worker is still unclear in its definition – and in employers’ duty to protect it. If a court perceives certain independent or temporary contractors as the equivalent of that company’s permanent full- or part-time workers, the company could be expected to offer them an equal level of OHS protection. And with temporary contractors tending to have limited health and safety equipment or resources for related training, companies often have large OHS gaps to fill. Bearing these concerns in mind, organizations should build in temporary contractors into their current health and safety programs, even if there are no explicit legal obligations imposed on employers.

Equip your occupational health and safety system to address smart PPE and gear

Advancing technologies impact nearly every aspect of our work, changing our routines to enhance productivity and efficiency. Especially after adapting to COVID-19 measures, many companies are accelerating their high-tech implementation. For example, to continue working during quarantine, some companies leverage high-tech solutions like drones, smart eyeglasses, as well as helmets with built-in communication and cameras.

But these new technologies also bring new risks to workplaces. Take smart PPE as an example. Wearing smart eyeglasses could become hazardous if not properly worn, obstructing the workers’ view during operations. Additionally, from the industrial hygiene point of view, workers could be exposed to nanomaterials and radiation when handling certain high-tech equipment. It’s imperative that your OHS team revise safety protocols with key technology considerations in mind to prevent and mitigate these risks.

Optimizing your occupational health and safety system, today and tomorrow

Although protecting employees is on every day’s agenda for EHS and OHS professionals, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work highlights the importance of this responsibility – and the challenges it presents. This year, the World Day marked a milestone in our global community’s efforts to protect against the quickly changing hazards of our digital – and (hopefully soon-to-be) post-pandemic world.

To stay resilient with these evolving risks, OHS management must incorporate more than the conventional workplace and work conditions. This means updating your OHS system to manage today’s trending issues, from the long-term impact of COVID-19 measures to the lesser-known hazards of cutting-edge technology.

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