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    June 25, 2020

    Employee Safety During Times of Crisis

    A month ago it would have been unfathomable to hear about and see people gathering together in large crowds, especially during the throws of the coronavirus pandemic! But spend a few minutes watching the news and that’s exactly what you’ll see.

    As an employer, understanding how to manage these situations so that safety doesn’t take a backseat will help make these situations less difficult.

    Roles and Responsibilities During a Crisis

    Safety is often one of the first things people forget about during a crisis which can and often does result in injuries and fatalities, making and already difficult and stressful situation even more so.

    Regardless of the situation, whether it’s a pandemic, civil unrest or a natural disaster, both employers and employees still have rights and responsibilities with regards to safety.

    Under the OSH Act, employers have a responsibility to provide a work environment that is free of recognized hazards. The way this is accomplished is by maintaining regulatory compliance programs the same way all the time, regardless of what’s going on in the world.

    Just like employers have responsibilities, so do workers. In fact, OSHA has dedicated an entire section of their website to worker rights and responsibilities.

    Communicating Effectively

    The number one complaint of many employees is a lack of communication from the management. Employees often feel like they are in the dark, especially during times of crisis or other change. When employees don’t feel “in the know”, it can make things more stressful.

    During crisis situations, a common occurrence is the rise of rumors and false information which spreads like wildfire. This sort of uncontrolled communication can spark strong emotions and negative responses from workers, which is the last thing anyone needs during a crisis. To make things worse when communication efforts aren’t coordinated or managed properly, protected and confidential information about people and/or the company can be revealed leading to serious legal issues.

    For this reason, it’s extremely important to have a communication process during emergencies and other times of crisis to ensure the workforce and the community is given the right information in a timely fashion. A good way of doing this is to authorize specific employees to serve as designated spokespeople whose only role during a crisis is to disseminate information.

    When this sort of structure is set up and maintained, employees will often feel a sense of comfort knowing they have designated people to go to for information and will reject rumors and other false information as it presents itself.

    Leading During a Crisis

    No matter how well trained or how experienced someone might be, crisis situations are stressful and can affect how we think, respond and react. Things we’d normally let roll of our backs can become harder to deal with during a crisis and can cause inappropriate behavior.

    The workforce is going to be looking at leadership to help them through whatever crisis is going on. This is why it’s so important to have strong, emotionally mature leadership at the helm. Strong leaders aren’t necessarily unaffected by crisis, they are just better able to deal with it.

    When a member of leadership allows emotions to take over and dictate their responses and reactions, the workforce will eventually lose trust in their ability to lead. Especially during a crisis, people look for leaders and if the people whose job it is to lead are doing a poor job, employees will look elsewhere. When this happens, conflict quickly becomes an issue.

    While you should always make sure your conflict resolution policy is up to date, making sure the policy is well understood and uniformly applied is even more critical. Making sure all employees understand the policy and how to apply it takes practice and patience but during times of crisis, you’ll be glad you spent the extra time on making sure conflict situations can be recognized and defused in the early stages.

    Crisis Management – During & After

    We’ve said many times over the last few months that workplace safety is more important than ever. But nowadays, navigating workplace safety requires more emotional intelligence than ever before.

    The reality is that during any period of uncertainty, your employees are going to need more direction than they probably normally would. Having a safety program that is rooted in a strong foundation that never changes regardless of what’s going on, will provide your employees with something they can always count on to be consistent. When things remain consistent and employees know what to expect and where to go for information, crisis situations become less stressful and take less of an emotional toll on the workforce.

    When a crisis or emergency situation subsides, it’s always a great idea to have people provide feedback on how things were managed. This sort of feedback helps everyone understand where they might be vulnerable so they can find ways to improve for next time. Inviting the hourly workforce to join in this process will help build trust and respect which will go along way during the next crisis situation.

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    Katy Lyden, MS, OHST

    Katy Lyden is a Domain Analyst and EHS Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, retired Emergency Medical...