Life in the workplace, whether onsite or at home, has looked very different for most of us this year. In times of stress or change, we are all at a greater risk to make careless mistakes or overlook potential hazards.
While Veolia North America always stresses safety, staying on top of ever-changing COVID-19 safety procedures while continuing to reinforce your day-to-day safety processes is essential right now.
Safety during the COVID-19 crisis
As we've all found out, keeping up with what to do and what not to do during a pandemic is like standing on shifting sand. Regulations and best practices may change from day to day, country to country and from state to state.
- Broadly, there are three things to consider:
- Are your people safe?
- Are their families safe?
- Are your vendors and customers safe?
Are your people safe?
First, follow the recommendations of the experts. Make sure you are regularly checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). They can tell you the latest advice on how to protect yourself and your staff and what to do if you are sick.
Though it sounds simplistic, remind your staff regularly to:
- Quarantine if possible
- Wash their hands
- Don’t touch their faces
- Wear face coverings where and when necessary
In addition, talk to your cleaning crews about their cleaning protocols, which should be extra-thorough these days.
Walk through every step your employees take every day and figure out areas that might be high-touch -- sign-in sheets, copiers, shared plant equipment, locker rooms. Can you eliminate them for the time being? Assign someone to disinfect after each use? Assign just one person at a time? Provide gloves and masks?
Temporarily close off or limit the number of people who can access areas of your office or plant that tend to gather crowds -- coffee pots, water coolers, lunchrooms.
Be creative in keeping personnel separated. Use staggered lunches, have shift meetings outside so personnel can spread out to maintain social distancing, wipe down common surfaces frequently, allow time so personnel can wash their hands at least every 30 minutes.
Are their families safe?
Your employees will be worried about their families and you should be, too. In addition to possibly separating or quarantining staffers who have travelled or somehow been exposed to the coronavirus, you should be concerned about employees whose family members have been exposed.
Are they following safe practices? Can your staff be separated from exposed family members until deemed safe? Can you afford to put them in a hotel until the danger has passed?
Are your vendors and customers safe?
When entering your building (or when your employees need to go into someone else’s), are vendors and customers following the same stringent protocols as you? Of course with customers, you need to follow their lead but not at the risk of infection.
The biggest enemy these days? Complacency. Now that fatigue has set in, it’s easy to relax your vigilance. Daily reminders and constant communication is deeply important to keep safety top-of-mind.
Continuing onsite safety for essential operations
In addition to safe practices for the pandemic, safe daily practices must also be a priority. Though you may have implemented many temporary changes, some safety measures can never be ignored. Remembering to continue using your sharpest tools and skills is critical to the safety and success of performing critical functions in a time of crisis.
- Follow the steps of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and job safety analyses (JSA). If a condition requires those steps to change because of the crisis, that change must be reviewed by all personnel.
- All high-risk management standards must be followed. This includes safety procedures for control of hazardous energy, fall protection, respiratory protection, confined space entry, etc.
- If a job cannot be done safely, STOP and reassess.
- Continue to follow all site-specific safety protocols.
Safety and self-care while working from home
Many people are adjusting to the new normal of working from home. For some, it may be hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Continuing to practice self-care and safety is essential to your health, well-being and productivity of your work. During times of crisis, it is important to continue safety best practices:
- Use proper ergonomics when working on your computer at home.
- Get up, stretch, and move around frequently so you do not remain in the same position for too long.
- If you’re on a computer for long periods of time, every 20 minutes or so stop and stare at a white or blank wall for 10 to 15 seconds to ease eye strain.
Reminders of safety best practices
Safety has to be top-of-mind for everyone in your organization every minute of every day.
In times of crisis, rates of “everyday incidents” go up. On a normal day, you might remember to step over a potential safety hazard, but if you are worried or distracted, you’re vulnerable. Here is a list of our safe practices that make a big difference for our teams, no matter where their day-to-day work takes them.
- Commitment must start at the top — Our CEO, Brian Clarke, starts every meeting with a safety moment and continues to emphasize how important a safety mindset is to protecting ourselves and ensuring essential services continue.
- "We are succeeding because we entered this critical moment with clear goals and an overall mission to safeguard the continuity of essential services and the health and safety of our employees, customers, and the communities in which we operate." - Brian Clarke, CEO
- Share honestly and share often — Employees must feel comfortable sharing mistakes, close calls, or lessons learned. This kind of transparency allows you to share beneficial information to broader circles in your group. At Veolia, we share these types of details daily through email updates and announcements at meetings at all levels of the organization.
- GOAL ZERO - LEADING SAFETY TOGETHER remains our motto. This means safety extends beyond work hours. Goal Zero is what Veolia requires every employee to adopt as a goal of their own, and it’s an attainable target we are all proud to strive toward.
- Use what we call Mental Safety Assessment (MSA) throughout the day. Take a few seconds before you do something to assess the potential risks and make sure you have protection in place to manage the risk. The purpose of the MSA is to keep your mind on the task at hand.
Whether you’re at the front desk, working from home or working at a facility, hazards are not always obvious. Every member of your organization must remain fully committed. Following these practices consistently can protect you from injury.
Safety for yourself and others
Best practices for safety extend beyond your own person; they are a challenge for everyone. Some standards and tools we use at Veolia are listed below. Here’s what’s worked for us in case you want some new ideas for your own safety-centric work culture.
Recommended practices for community safety:
Let this mindset permeate all circumstances. At the drugstore, in the car, onsite, at home, while grocery shopping —- continue to watch out for the safety of others.
- “See something, say something” is the practice of looking out for each other, actively and vocally. If you see it, you own it. Identifying and correcting unsafe acts and conditions is a basic tenet of our culture.
- Every employee at Veolia has “stop work authority.” This is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) principle-based policy that gives workers the authority to stop an action or task if they consider it to be unsafe and dangerous. This policy encourages employees to speak up when they see a potential at-risk situation.
- Protect others by taking ownership of identified hazards. If you cannot safely correct the hazard, place some form of warning or barrier and notify your supervisor.
Safety should never be routine
With many changes to our routine lives, there is one thing that will forever remain unchanged — the importance of safe practices and protocol. During this time of heightened uncertainty, Veolia is committed, as always, to supporting our customers and community in practicing safe behaviors. Whether you are continuing daily work as an essential employee or adjusting to your new work- from-home environment, following the recommended safety procedures and protocols is imperative to keeping yourself and others safe.