Some of you may be thinking “Phew, my workplace is sorted, what next?” But others might be organising employees to work from home or trying to manage safety and mental health from a distance. COVID-19 hit Australia fast in terms of government responses and rising cases which meant safety and human resource professionals needed to act quickly.
The problem is that the dust is yet to settle in testing the new working arrangements with perhaps the thought that my workplace is sorted said a little prematurely.
This article brings together all that we have published over the past few weeks on COVID-19 to provide a checklist. We aim to make sure that you have covered what you need to do so that your workplace is sorted as everyone begins to settle into the new normal.
1. Undertake a Risk Assessment
You must undertake a risk assessment across your work areas to ensure that you effectively control physical and psychological hazards. In this COVID-19 emergency, organisations have additional requirements to manage the risks of transmitting the disease through their workplaces. The purpose is to keep your employees, contractors, visitors and members of the public safe. A risk assessment includes six steps:
- Identify hazards (transmission of the virus)
- Assess the risk (highly contagious virus – the risk is very high),
- Analyse the risk to prioritise what to tackle first (make your workplace safe),
- Control the risk (who needs to work on-site?),
- Review the controls to ensure that they remain effective (regular check-ins with home-based employees), and
- Communicate the risks to everyone (regularly talk about what is required, how to comply, what’s working well, and what’s not).
Carefully think through the risk associated with COVID-19 and the measures you can take to ensure that your workplace is sorted as far as reasonably practicable.
See our article, COVID-19: How To Perform a Risk Assessment
2. Develop a Response Plan
A well-prepared and straightforward COVID-19 Response Plan helps to ensure that your workplace understands what to do to prevent the spread of coronavirus and if an employee develops any symptoms. Your COVID-19 Response Plan should involve:
- Closing your workplace to all non-essential staff and visitors. You should determine who can work from home and who must work at your workplace.
- Supplying hand sanitiser, wipes and other sanitisation tools at entrances and other key locations within your workplace.
- Adapting your office to accommodate for more distance between team members and ensure proper social distancing. If you are working in a shared office or gathering in a meeting room, you must have 2 metres apart from others in all directions. For example, if the work area you are in is 100 square metres (10m x 10m), you can only have 25 people in that room.
- Ensuring employees are not congregating as a group (think staggered shifts, breaks and lunchtimes).
- Setting up dedicated primary and secondary Response Contacts who employees can contact if they are feeling unwell.
- Nominating a point person to collect employee feedback, to monitor the local situation and report their analysis to the management team. You must empower the point person with the necessary authority to make quick decisions that can save lives. You should regularly review any ideas and concerns submitted by the company management team for implementation.
Ensure that your workplace is sorted by including in your COVID-19 Response Plan protocols on how you will conduct your meetings (including the frequency). Discuss how you will preserve capital to continue operating. Determine how you will monitor your employee’s wellbeing and safety and productivity with many working from home.
See our article, Developing a Business COVID-19 Response Plan.
3. Set-up Employees to Work From Home
To make sure your workplace is sorted, it needs to extend to your employee’s home environments. You need to ensure that your employees have an ergonomically sound set up, with a chair and desk that feels right at the height that suits them best. It’s a good idea to ask them to conduct a risk assessment at home. Make sure you file the assessments.
Working from home can place employees into lonely and isolated environments. Loneliness and isolation can have negative impacts while working from home, so it’s a good idea to pay extra attention to the social aspect of work. You need to be proactive and frequently communicate with your employees through chat forums, phone calls, and video conferences.
It’s essential that your employee’s set up a daily routine to structure their workday at home. Managers should set clear objectives from the outset and address any issues or concerns early and before they escalate. Your employees should start and finish each day at a set time to place them in work mode, but also to separate work from home time. They should work to a plan and prioritise tasks and tick them off as they complete them. They must dress for the day and not work in their pyjamas.
Managers have a crucial role here in that they need to provide their employees with the autonomy to get on and get the work done without keeping constant tabs. A quick daily check-in should be enough together with weekly planning sessions. You should also be mindful that your employees may need to work around children and others in the home environment.
See our article, COVID-19: Safely Working From Home.
4. Move to Online Training
The escalation of COVID-19 changes the way organisations should train their employees. Wherever possible, they should NOT be undertaking training activities face-to-face, classroom and group activities. The risk is too high that you will spread the virus. By continuing with traditional training delivery methods, organisations are unnecessarily bringing people together.
Group training increases the risk of the spread of the disease, and some may argue that using these methods is a breach of our duty of care.
There is no need to do that for your safety and mental health training because there is substantial online training available.
It’s time for a re-think of how you train and what else you can do to keep your employees physically and psychologically safe so that training in your workplace is sorted.
See our article, Coronavirus: Stop Classroom and Group Training.
5. Reduce Your Employee’s Anxiety
During this COVID-19 pandemic, your employee’s anxiety is skyrocketing. There have been reports that 80% of employees are highly anxious. They are worried about losing their job, many are isolated working from home, and they are extremely concerned that they will catch the coronavirus.
To reduce your employee’s anxiety, you must establish social supports at work. You should offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and ensure that your employees know how to access it when they are experiencing ongoing anxiety and feel they need help. Where you can, link them to online counselling services.
Another way to assist employees in managing their mental health is to train effective coping strategies so that they can prevent issues escalating. You need to encourage them to seek help early if things start to get too much.
Tap into Safety uses MicroLearning to teach coping strategies to help employees relax, reduce stress, and overcome anxious and depressed feelings.
To help you to manage your employee’s wellbeing so that your workplace is sorted through the crisis, we have developed a COVID-19 Mental Health Training and Support Rescue package with dedicated modules on:
- COVID-19 and Your Workplace
- Helping Employees with Mental Health Concerns
- Workplace Conflict
- Working from Home
- Managing Your Employees
- Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees
- Fear of Job Loss
See our article, COVID-19: Reduce Your Employee’s Anxiety.
Making sure your workplace is sorted through this COVID-19 pandemic is not a quick or straightforward exercise. Many safety and human resource professionals have been under considerable pressure to quickly adapt their workplaces to meet government requirements around social-distancing and to prevent transmission of the virus. Some organisations are further along than others.
This article provides a 5-step checklist that links back to in-depth articles on each step to guide professionals to ensure that their workplace is sorted and safe. You must undertake a risk assessment, develop a response plan, set-up your employees to work from home when they can, move to online training and do what you can to reduce your employee’s anxiety.
There will be many months where we will have to manage our employees from a distance. You must establish routines, expectations and communication protocols to support both productivity and mental health.