Over the last couple of years, we have seen how businesses have had to adapt to many changes — an evolving pandemic, supply-chain interruptions, reduced workforce numbers. One business function in particular was forced to pivot in a variety of ways, and in fact has proven its value in helping companies stay resilient through uncertainty.
Environmental, health and safety has long been known for ensuring organizations are meeting safety compliance standards, but recently (even before these past few years) the field has been evolving to focus more on accident prevention rather than what is essentially damage control.
And now, more than ever, EHS professionals are finding their scope of responsibility has expanded. However, no matter what sort of changes may arise, the resiliency of employee health and safety can aid in the resiliency of an organization as a whole.
Training is still key
The impacts of safety training, when properly implemented and followed, are undeniable. The number of worker injuries and illnesses dropped from 10.9 per 100 workers in 1972 (the first full year following the creation of OSHA) to 2.7 per 100 workers in 2020, while the average daily worker deaths fell more than 65% during that same time.
Regardless of whether the EHS field has been mostly about accident prevention or about incident management, a key focus of these professionals has always been on employee health and safety training. In fact, training may be more important now than ever before.
Before COVID-19, nearly half (47%) of employees in the U.S. reported never working from home. Unsurprisingly, that completely changed after the pandemic, with 44% of employees reporting they work remotely at least 5 days per week.
Of course, there are numerous jobs that simply cannot be done remotely, such as construction, manufacturing, or oil and gas, but an evolving workforce meant safety professionals needed to find ways to continue keeping their employees safe. Introducing online training courses to an organization made learning fully accessible by employees at any location.
And now, even if a team is back to on-site operations, online training can still be extremely beneficial. Taking training online can save a company time and money, as online training does not require a physical classroom setting or bringing an in-person trainer to the jobsite. Additionally, workers can complete training on their own, whenever it can fit into their schedules.
Increasing your organization’s flexibility over how, when and where employees can complete their training gives you a leg up when it comes to staying resilient no matter what uncertainties you may face.
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The Rise of Total Worker Wellness
Everyone knows health and safety professionals have long been concerned with the physical safety of their employees, whether from direct hazards, like falling from elevated surfaces, or from potential workplace accidents, such as chemical spills.
But it has only become more recently understood that safety professionals should address worker health beyond just physical safety. Total worker wellness has become a more common term in occupational health and safety, with good reason.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults suffered from some type of mental illness in 2019, and the numbers have not improved since COVID-19 hit the United States in January 2020 and thrust millions of Americans into isolation, unemployment and illness.
Of course, every organization will have their own mental health-related issues to address, due to different company sizes, industries, jobsite setups and employee demographics. However, here are a few options that practically any workplace could look into implementing:
- Let employees take mental health days
- Encourage a healthy work-life balance
- When possible, keep work at work
- Provide mental health resources
- Create and maintain quiet spaces
Mental health awareness should — without question — be part of your workplace culture and can easily be tied into any safety program. The best thing you can do is talk to your employees. Find out what their concerns are, work together to come up with solutions and be open in continuing discussions.
While the direct benefits of total worker wellness may not be immediately apparent for an overall organization, keep in mind when employees are happy, they are more actively engaged at work, are less likely to suffer the effects of workplace stress and display more loyalty to their employer.
Employee training, especially when it includes a focus on mental health, can boost employee morale, which has numerous positive effects. High employee morale can even help create stability within a team or organization during times of flux.
Many times, people think of the health and safety industry as old and outdated, resistant to change. In reality, the EHS function often welcomes the opportunity to adapt new technologies to suit their needs.
Immersive technology, like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), can be incredibly beneficial in the safety training arena as employees can insert themselves into different situations without actually putting themselves in harm’s way.
Even the technology used to create safety training videos is always improving. Techniques such as motion capture help to create realistic — and therefore more effective — videos, which of course is ideal in a safety training setting.
However, it is not just the technology used for training itself. For instance, mobile safety apps can help simplify safety management by providing multiple tools in one location. And even aspects of apps or safety programs themselves can be up-to-date and useful.
Artificial intelligence, in the context of a safety app, can be used to catch potential hazards before they cause an incident, or can help identify potential solutions to a safety issue based on previous inputs regarding how hazards were successfully managed.
While organizations do not need to be at the forefront of technology implementation, with many EHS professionals already interested in bringing such advancements on board, it is easy to see how quick adaptation can assist in maintaining status quo through uncertainty.
Any of the strategies mentioned here can be helpful for a safety program. But when all these pieces — safety training, total worker wellness, emerging technology — are implemented together, the chances of improving employee safety plus overall organizational resiliency only increases.
While it should go without saying, training serves as the foundation for helping your entire workforce minimize safety risks, making your organization less likely to fall out of compliance and your workers less likely to have an on-the-job incident that needs to be recorded.
However, be sure not to neglect the total health of your employees and keep mental health needs in mind. Additionally, it is not only the crucial job skills employees want to be trained on. More and more employers are seeing the value of offering training on soft skills, such as teamwork, active listening or problem solving.
Introducing new technologies related to safety training or employee health can boost your safety program’s effectiveness, thereby of course keeping your employees safer but also protecting your company from potentially costly, or deadly, incidents.
If anything, these last couple of years have shown how resilient the EHS function is, and in turn how helpful it can be for a company’s overall resiliency. Contact SafetySkills today to learn more about introducing online safety training — or a full safety management system — to help boost your organization’s preparedness.