Safety First: The second wave of Covid-19

by Stephen Shaw
Stephen Shaw is director, integrated operations and leads the pandemic response team at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS).

Are flare-ups of Covid-19 across the country and elsewhere early warning signs of a second wave? While businesses have reopened, the pandemic is not yet over, and epidemiologists warn that a second wave may be inevitable.

This time, however, we can be better prepared to face the types of challenges the second wave will bring. Now is the time for workplaces to take action. The goal is to pivot quickly, while keeping your employees healthy and ensuring your workplace continues to operate. While there’s a lot to think about, there are many tools and resources to help you navigate through this.

If you already have a pandemic team or business continuity team, start with them. You can then add other essential voices, such as human resources, operations, IT, managed systems, marketing and sales, and customer service. Coordinate your planning with employee groups, such as the joint health and safety committee. All of these voices can help you identify issues and solutions, and implement an action plan.

Here are 12 suggestions for your plan of action. You can expand on or customize them to reflect your workplace requirements.

  1. Review your response to the pandemic so far. What worked well? What could you have done differently? For instance, how could decision-making and implementation be made more effective and timely? Are employees and customers following your Covid-19 precautions? If not, what are the challenges they are facing?
  2. If you haven’t recognized Covid-19 hazards and assessed the risks, do it now. Are the new hazard control measures working? Could new measures implemented since the outbreak began have introduced new hazards? To reduce the risks of Covid-19 in the workplace, become familiar with the Hierarchy of Controls that includes elimination, engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment. Have you adopted RACE – Recognize, Assess, Control and Evaluate?
  3. Integrate new Covid-19 policies and procedures into your established policies and procedures. For example first aid, travel, working from home, sick leave and housekeeping.
  4. Draw up contingency plans for a possible return to a lower stage of opening even a full lockdown. In the first round of lockdown, adaptability was key as many essential businesses quickly adopted new measures to remain operational. Take the time to evaluate what worked and what you need to improve in case of another round of closure. Start putting those practices and systems in place now.
  5. Keep your emergency contact list up to date. Include alternative contact methods.
  6. Record contact information for all visitors for contact tracing purposes.
  7. Continue monitoring Covid-19 in your area so you know what stage your region is in and how the pandemic is trending. How would a change affect your customers and suppliers?
  8. Ensure you have enough PPE and other supplies on hand in the event of a second wave. Line up preferred suppliers now.
  9. Keep employees engaged in minimizing Covid-19 hazards. Rotating members on your recovery team, increasing the frequency of joint health and safety committee inspections, and creating an ideas incubator are just three possibilities.
  10. Up your efforts to minimize employee stress and anxiety. The pandemic has changed our workplaces, possibly forever. In addition to many physical safety considerations and risks, it has also magnified the importance of mental health. The risk of burnout and other mental health issues will only increase. What can you do to minimize this risk? For example, have you surveyed employees to assess anxiety levels and identify issues (e.g., “Have you had sufficient training to interact safely with customers and co-workers? Do you feel you have the right PPE? Do you have childcare or eldercare issues?”).
  11. Consider your options for continuing or restarting health and safety training, including orientation training if you are hiring new employees or bringing employees back after an extended period away from the workplace. Update your health and safety training matrix, find out who requires certification or refresher training and consider virtual training options to meet your compliance deadlines.
  12. Promote flu vaccinations to keep employees healthy and away from emergency departments. Focus on overall health and well-being of employees – if a second wave coincides with flu season, more employees may be off work, and for longer periods.