The pandemic took the entire world by surprise. Even rich and developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom struggle to contain the highly transmissible and deadly virus first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019.
Pandemic in 2020
The virus led countries to lockdown, leaving organizations scrambling to maintain operations despite the restrictions. Most companies made the decision to allow employees to work from home, decongesting offices and protecting employees from getting sick.
However, working from home is not an option for everybody. There are those who are called “essential workers” whose presence are needed to keep the nation going. These are supermarket cashiers, fast food and restaurant cooks, public transportation drivers, and government workers. Aside from medical professionals who had to respond to the ongoing public health crisis, these workers enabled people to get their food and other needs.
Because of the threat, employers have the responsibility to protect their employees from illness. Having a safety and health management system is important. It will guide the workforce and reduce the likelihood of any unwanted incidents.
Illness and Injuries at the Workplace
Even before the pandemic, the workplace has always posed a danger to employees. In 2019, about 2.8 million nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses were reported among private industry workers in the United States. That same year, a total of 5,333 workers died from an injury or illness they received while at work.
In Singapore, the rate of occupational injury and illness was lower. In 2019, a total of 13,111 workers got hurt while working. Meanwhile, 39 workers died of occupational injuries and illnesses.
All sectors, including those that mostly work in offices, have risks. In an office, an employee could trip over a cord and fall, sustaining an injury. However, the construction sector has the worst record in terms of employee safety, accounting for 33 out of 59 fatalities in 2013.
Aside from accidents, the workplace is also the perfect environment for diseases to spread. Germs can easily be transmitted by touching common traffic surfaces and by breathing in contaminated air.
Most organizations should have a safety and health system in place with or without the pandemic. Those that did better during the pandemic.
Safety and Health During the Pandemic
Keeping multiple people safe and healthy is a challenge, especially during the pandemic. It is much harder to protect employees who have to go out for work.
SMRT, a Singaporean public transportation operator, faced the same problem in the past year. A number of its on-site workers caught the virus because they had to interact with other people, often in enclosed spaces. The organization responded by adopting strategies that prioritized the health and safety of staff as well as the public.
As part of SMRT’s COVID-19 prevention strategy, commonly-touched surfaces were frequently sanitized for the protection of not just employees but also commuters. Moreover, in trains, the organization has implemented a no-talking policy to decrease droplets and aerosols in the air.
In Singapore, safety and health management systems are required in certain workplaces to protect workers. There are four features of an efficient safety and health management system: goal setting, planning, measuring performance, and managing commitments. Workplaces are also required to review systems in place and improve if necessary.
A safety and health management system means that the organization is ready to confront a public health crisis such as a pandemic. It allows for a quick response against a highly transmissible virus, for example, or freak accidents.
Other cities across Asia have adopted health and safety measures. In some cities, the health of the transport staff is monitored through temperature checks daily. Workers are also provided protection equipment such as face coverings and gloves to use while at work.
In addition, commuters also undergo health monitoring to ensure that staff is not exposed to anyone who is already exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Moreover, research has proven that a health and safety management system’s success relies on the thorough understanding and obedient compliance of the workforce. Therefore, processes and standards should be communicated so everyone can commit to it.
The employer is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of employees at the workplace, regardless of whether there is no ongoing threat but especially during a crisis such as a pandemic. Not one health and safety management system is correct. All organizations should design theirs in a way that will address concerns specific to their industries. Most importantly, employees should be trained and convinced to follow these guidelines at all times.