With Covid-19 information, guidelines and regulations continually changing, environmental health and safety officers will have to take a cautious, well-organised approach to planning for employees’ return to work.
This is according to Francois Vermaak, revenue manager of EHS Cloud, who says the pandemic will significantly increase the pressure on environmental health and safety teams.
“Not only do they have to manage the usual risk in their workplaces, they will now also have to balance mitigating Covid-19 risk with business productivity,” he notes. As the pandemic evolves and new information, guidelines and standards emerge, Covid-19 best practice may change over time, meaning return to work safety strategies will have to be flexible, he adds.
Vermaak believes the South African government has been appropriately proactive about flattening the curve, and that the government’s guidelines are currently the safety measures companies should be adopting.
“Currently, applying the basic procedures of social distancing, hygiene and, where applicable, personal protective equipment, will be key to workplace health and safety. Organisations will also have to prepare strategies for the screening of employees, maintenance of medical records and management of any incidents once employees start returning to work.”
But the situation is constantly evolving, so more safety measures could emerge that will have to be taken into consideration. “We have not experienced a similar situation in modern history – it is so dynamic and fluid that strategies will have to constantly evolve,” he says.
Vermaak notes that employers are obligated to make every reasonable effort to ensure that workplaces pose no health and safety risk to employees, so it will be important for EHS officers to document all measures taken to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. This includes inspection records and – where necessary – photographic and video evidence of measures in place.
“While the employer is responsible for health and safety in the workplace, we will also need accountability on the part of employees too,” Vermaak says. He says training and communication are important, and that employees must be encouraged to report symptoms and stay home if they are feeling ill.
“Of course, this is tricky because many people infected with the virus are asymptomatic, and also because many workers live hand to mouth and may want to conceal symptoms in order to keep earning an income.”
EHS Cloud is adapting its existing modules to offer organisations a comprehensive cloud-based COVID-19 risk management tool. The integrated management solution enables organisations to manage reporting, conduct inspections and audits, manage a PPE register, document and record safety measures – including videos and photos, track and manage communication, manage incidents, and track and analyse trends on a single dashboard. Users can build and interrogate graphs, storyboards and dashboards for various departments across multiple sites, and can measure compliance against ever-evolving standards. EHS Cloud is also working to roll out a mobile interface later this month.