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Workplace safety lessons learned from the pandemic

workplace safety

Workplace safety leaders who scrambled with the unprecedented shutdowns, mandated protocols, staffing shortages and telecommuting arrangements resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic can now use what they learned to prepare for the next health emergency, according to panelists who spoke Monday at the American Society of Safety Professionals’ annual conference.

The new normal includes being ready, said James Rowlett, a Pittsburgh-based environmental health and safety consulting manager with Accenture PLC, who presented during Safety 2022, held this week in person in Chicago and virtually.

“As the C-suite are now discussing and as your executives are now discussing, how do we pivot back to normal? The lessons learned on how to respond to the next pandemic are being evaluated,” he said. “Plans to improve and expectations will not go away.”

Patricia Reed, Houston-based senior environmental safety and health engineer with Honeywell International Inc., which manufactures industrial and household cleaning chemicals and stayed open during the pandemic, told attendees the company has faced myriad issues, starting with staffing.

“We had challenges for getting staff into work,” she said, with some employees unable to come in because either they or family members were ill.

“We’ve relied a lot on temporary or contract-employees staff,” Ms. Reed said, noting this created issues for safety training, which had to be conducted via social distancing. Issues with personal protective equipment and sanitation also emerged, she added.

The message is to learn all the facets of one’s enterprise and to know the workforce, Ms. Reed said.

“An opportunity exists for you to upskill your position and your value,” she said. “We talked about removing the silos, getting familiar with all the areas of your facility, knowing more ins and outs of logistics, knowing more (about) procurement and production, making sure that you know crew integrity. If you have someone go down on one shift, you might have to make sure that I can get someone else in from another shift.”