Q: How can our committee help our workplace return to operations, now that some COVID-19 restrictions are lifting?
A: Thank you for this important question. COVID-19 has created many challenges for workplaces,and as employers continue to bring workers back into the workplace, they will need to adapt to the ever-changing landscape while ensuring the safety and health of their workforce.
Your safety and health committee or safety and health representative can play an integral role in the workplace as employers and workers prepare for and adjust to this "new normal."
Here are a few tips!
Learn as much as you can about COVID-19 through webinars, fact sheets, internal training and credible online resources. Remember: you have likely already dealt with and researched numerous hazards in your workplace. COVID-19 is another hazard!
Ensure that you are aware of your company's policies, practices and procedures relating to COVID-19. Workers are going to have a lot of questions and they will be looking to you for guidance. Know as much as you can about the company's new protocols pertaining to COVID-19, and help your employer through this process.
Ensure workers know and understand they can come to you with any COVID-19 questions or concerns. You may be able to provide some insight or at least gather these inquiries so they can be brought forward at an upcoming safety and health committee meeting. (Remember that committee meetings are still required, whether they are virtual or in person. If you continue to meet in person, ensure that you use appropriate physical distancing and follow the guidance of Manitoba Health.)
Continue to provide regular committee inspections, focusing on all those workplace areas where risk of COVID-19 may be increased. High-touch areas such as office equipment, tools, machines, powered mobile equipment, access/egress mechanisms, kitchen appliances and utensils are just some examples. Inform the employer of your findings during these inspections, assist in developing controls and provide feedback on the effectiveness of the implemented measures.
When it comes time to explore ways to help mitigate risk of COVID-19, don't forget to use the hierarchy of controls, similar to any other hazard you have dealt with in the workplace. If you are unfamiliar, you may want to seek further training on applying the hierarchy of controls. Here are a few general examples for mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 using the hierarchy of controls:
Continue to be safety champions for your company!
- Elimination: conduct virtual meetings and training, avoid public areas and main meeting areas
- Engineering Controls: install plexiglass barriers, sneeze guards, partitions, hands-free trash receptacles, etc.
- Administrative Controls: alter work practices, such as:
- staggering shifts
- implementing cohort practice or platooning (teams of employees only working with each other)
- minimizing the number of staff at work or in work areas
- implementing virtual options
- implementing physical distancing procedures
- using floor markings
- encouraging proper hygiene practices
- implementing disinfection procedures
- posting signage to communicate implemented measures.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): this is the last line of defense when protecting yourself from a hazard. If PPE is required, a PPE program needs to be implemented, including use, care, and disposal of applicable PPE. The safety and health committee or safety and health representative can provide insight and review effectiveness of PPE on a regular basis.
Take pride in the job you're performing and know that your role as a committee member or safety and health representative remains a very important piece of your company's safety and health program as your workplace learns to co-exist with COVID-19.