The pandemic has been blamed for a lot of things, but one positive was that it forced business leaders to shift priorities to put greater attention on the health and safety of their employees. Focusing on health and safety was the right thing to do, plus it supported efforts to recruit, retain and promote their best people during a time when it’s hard to hang on to good workers. Organizations that used the pandemic pause to analyze health protocols, cleanliness, safety policies and environmental factors are in a far better position today. Whether you started two years ago or two days from now, there’s still much more that can be accomplished to improve health and safety in the workplace.
Designating a Time to Recognize the Importance of Safety
One way to promote safety in an office is to take cues from the construction industry. Construction is a highly regulated high-risk industry that requires companies to be invested in protecting workers’ physical and mental health. Each year in early May the industry nationally holds a Construction Safety Week, when many companies highlight different safety reminders to their staff. This year, the week is May 2–6. But any industry or individual company can designate a week to highlight existing health and safety protocols to help protect employees so they can continue to do their best work.
Hiring Safety Professionals
Hiring a qualified health and safety professional can help companies across numerous industries develop safer work environments, enact stronger policies, educate workers and empower them to speak up if they feel like they are in danger. This should include protecting employees’ mental health, which requires providing safe, welcoming work environment that supports diversity and inclusion.
While construction companies often have dedicated safety workers, most businesses cannot afford to have a full-time safety professional on staff — but the pandemic has made it easier for companies to hire safety consultants. As demand rose for certified safety professionals, we saw more of them seeking project work to either replace their full-time jobs or supplement them. HR teams can find people on social media but going through a trusted gig economy marketplace that specializes in this area, like YellowBird, can help them hire consultants who are vetted, certified and insured.
Testing Air Quality
Before hiring a safety expert for project work or a full-time position, companies should come up with a list of actual safety needs and list the safety assurances employees would appreciate. Some of the most common employee requests and actual needs that came up during the pandemic were air quality-related. A professional assessment can determine if a business’s HVAC system is working properly, how often air is cycled out, and how many contaminants are in the air. These tests can give employees greater confidence returning to the office. For office workers in old buildings, this assessment can also be valuable and even reassuring to employees who have respiratory issues and allergies. While many HVAC repair companies offer some of these tests, a third-party safety consultant can provide an unbiased and comprehensive report with recommendations.
Identifying Safety Hazards
Safety hazards on a construction site may be obvious, but offices also contain hazards that could cause severe injuries. At an office assessment, a safety expert will look for a wide range of potential problems such as slip and trip hazards on flooring and in stairways, chemical dangers from inadequate cleaning product storage, ergonomic considerations like having adjustable chairs and avoiding repetitive motions, fire safety such as damaged cords and furniture that blocks exits, and other common problems that can be found in many offices.
If a business is open to the public, the risks are even greater. Insurance companies often require a risk assessment prior to providing coverage to ensure the public will be safe entering the establishment, but that’s not always an annual event. While business owners may understand the risks, the young adults that are working the counters may not, so having a third-party assessment protects them, the customer and the owner.
We all created new return-to-work policies to protect our teams, but how many times have you revisited those plans? For companies that do not have strict regulatory compliance checks, it’s easy to create a safety protocol and put it in the employee handbook without ever reviewing it again. There is incredible value in having an outside consultant review safety policy to ensure companies are protecting employees from injuries and illness, test protocols, and even conduct mock OSHA investigations.
Putting a team through a Mock OSHA investigation is a great opportunity to learn where the company’s shortfalls are, identify areas of improvement and fix problems to avoid fines. Safety experts will set up a scenario to ensure the organization is following all the necessary regulations. In 2021, there were more than 57,700 local, state and national regulatory changes in the U.S., so hiring a consultant to conduct drills and assess performance can save organizations money and ensure worker safety.
Caring for an employee’s mental health is equally as important as caring for their physical safety, and requires additional policies and training on every job site. While most companies include harassment policies in their handbooks, many are vague on setting boundaries about acceptable behavior and language, and, if there isn’t an HR professional on staff, it may not even describe how they address workplace concerns. Even worse, they rely on lower-level managers to handle interoffice conflicts without providing specialized training.
Health and safety consultants can provide personalized guidance and training programs to help leaders identify unconscious bias, learn to ask the right questions, and adapt their communication practices to be more inclusive to develop a culture that invites diverse voices. Addressing mental barriers to safety should be considered an ongoing issue that requires constant review and training.
Hire the Expertise You Need When You Need It
Finally, to counter the Great Resignation and difficulty finding experts to hire who already hold special certifications, many hiring managers are considering new ways of filling these unique positions. This includes dividing the responsibilities of a full-time worker into several projects that can be completed by specially certified experts as needed. The professional service gig economy allows companies to hire skilled professionals to tackle one project at a time, giving them the option to scale up only when needed, protecting employees from being overworked and providing good-paying work for people who want flexibility. Not all gig platforms are equal, so HR teams are advised to find a trusted marketplace that specializes.
With the high rate of attrition shared by industries across the board, business leaders are finally seeing the benefit of putting more emphasis on how they care for employees. Hiring a safety exert to ensure they are providing a safe, inclusive workplace will give employees confidence so they can do their best work.
Michael Zalle is the founder and CEO of YellowBird, a professional services gig-economy marketplace that quickly and easily connects Risk and Environmental, Health and Safety professionals with businesses on-demand. By providing a fast and efficient method for insurance companies, business leaders and skilled professionals to consult, YellowBird matches the right people, in the right location, with the right experience for the job.