In 2015, Bill Gates presented a TED Talk which discussed our global lack of preparedness for an influenza pandemic. In the presentation, he talks to a general lack of surveillance, resourcing and treatment approaches which leaves us open to attack. Even for the most prepared organisations, the period of time since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic has been a steep learning curve and hive of risk control activity which has changed work as we know it.

In a swift response to COVID-19, management teams around the country have been busy consistently implementing and managing a range of measures for infection control and creating a system to allow their people to complete work in a safe way.

GCG has been in a unique position of responding as an organisation and also supporting organisations with specific services to help lead the way on implementing controls which help reduce the risk to essential workers. This blog aims to share insights and trends the GCG team is currently observing and helping our clients manage, through discussing:

  • Unintended consequences of COVID-19 controls
  • Using engineering controls to reduce reliance on PPE
  • Integration of controls into Workplace Health and Safety Management Systems

Unintended Consequences

It is important to consider the impact of the pandemic, and any unintended consequences of COVID control measures and how these decisions impact other hazards in the workplace. Generally, GCG has seen COVID controls impact some workplaces through:

  • An initial shift away from chronic risk to focussing on the acute COVID risk
  • Isolation of employees due to working from home
  • Increased workloads due to restructuring businesses
  • Reduction of supervision of fieldwork due to administrative transmission controls
  • Unintended distraction from critical risk controls due to a shifting focus on COVID

Rightly so, the first priority of an organization during a pandemic should be the safety and well-being of its people, and this is largely what we have seen happen across the country.

As we adjust in this pre-vaccine period of uncertainty, organisations now have an opportunity to assess how COVID risk management is balanced with the familiar and inherent risks of their workplace. This can be done through worker interviews, risk workshops and other tried and tested means to gain insights into what unintended consequences have been on your workplace.

Gaining information is the first important step in improving controls in areas that have been impacted. 

Engineering Controls to combat COVID-19

Due to the nature of the pandemic risk and the quick response that was required, many essential workplaces are now reliant on administrative and personal protective equipment control measures. This, unfortunately, means that control can be affected by the quality and supply of the products used.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has recently released a guide discussing engineering controls.  This guide amongst other technical information has shown that in the right circumstances, the following engineering controls may be suitable to apply and support your workplace in reducing the reliance on administrative and personal protective equipment controls:

  • Ventilation modelling
  • Local exhaust ventilation
  • Physical barriers, enclosures and guards
  • Enhanced filtration
  • Devices which inactivate or kill infectious organisms

In this semi-stabilised time-period, workplaces now have the potential to assess what types of controls are in place and determine what longer-term engineering controls could be implemented to reduce reliance on administration and PPE. 

Integration of COVID-19 Controls into Workplace Health and Safety Management Systems

Businesses should incorporate pandemic planning considerations into existing workplace health and safety management activities to provide a comprehensive response. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported the development of a vaccine against COVID-19 is currently underway, however, an effective vaccine is unlikely to be released until at least 2021. Given it’s likely that businesses will continue to feel the impact of COVID-19 for many months, pandemic risk management should be integrated into core planning to ensure it’s considered in conjunction with other workplace health and safety risks.

Integration of COVID-19 controls into your workplace health and safety management system can occur through:

Formalising COVID-19 controls into your Safety Management System affords the team the ability to integrate COVID into the monitor and review risk management cycle.

GCG is committed as a team to keep our people and our clients safe, and help lead the way through this tough time.

You can get in contact directly with a GCG Consultant to discuss your workplaces’ situation, ventilation and systems with us by heading to this link.

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