Scientific and Medical Experts advise that Coronavirus will be with us until such time as we have a suitable and safe vaccine; businesses will therefore need to consider the implications of the virus and how they will manage this ‘New Normal’.
There will be no ‘one size fits all’ and each business will need to consider its own risk in relation to the pandemic; we already know from the statistical evidence that the most successful prevention of spread is social distancing but for many sectors and industries, this could be almost impossible to achieve.
The role of the ‘Occupational Safety & Health Professional’ will be key to providing guidance on how to achieve ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments incorporating the step change needed to cover this additional hazard. For instance, the Fire Order 2005 requires that evacuation plans be regularly tested but, that is at odds with the current social distancing guidance; would you be expected to put people at risk from the potential spread of the virus for a fire test? Obviously if there was actually a fire then the potential for loss of life from being trapped in a burning building would outweigh the need for social distancing. There are many areas where implementing measures for ‘infection control’ might impact the safe working practices of a business process.
The healthcare, food and water industry professionals are well versed in the implementation of good hygiene practices and infection control measures and we can learn a lot from them but transferring those control measures to say engineering, construction, manufacturing and retail is not a simple task.
The new international standard ISO 45001 which replaces the old OHSAS 18001 (Health & Safety), focuses on the need to ‘mesh’ the Health & Safety Management System together with other key standards such as ISO 9001 (Quality) and ISO 14001 (Environmental) creating an integrated management system and whilst many SME’s will see the cost implications or certification restrictive in the current economic climate, following the process (Plan, Do, Check, Act) will undoubtedly be a benefit to business. Key areas focussed upon in the process include the need to involve the workforce in the decision-making process and, emergency preparedness and response; two extremely significant ‘lessons learnt’ for all business due to the pandemic.
Whatever changes are made for this ‘New Normal’, businesses must ensure that other areas of legal compliance are adhered to, for instance, when Companies do open up for business where buildings, plant and machinery have been effectively mothballed, there might well be a need to carry out statutory checks to ensure that buildings and processes are safe; everyone has the right to a ‘Safe Place to Work’.
Author: B. A Wrigley IEng M.I.C.E; CMaPS; Tech IOSH