Regardless of federal regulations or lack thereof, as essential workers in safety-sensitive workplaces kept working amidst surging infection rates, workplace safety entered the global spotlight. Safety suddenly became top of mind for every worker, and the top priority for every business determined to survive the pandemic.
Meanwhile, intermittent lockdowns and business closures made meeting productivity goals almost impossible.
With safety more important than ever and productivity harder to achieve than ever, safety-sensitive workplaces had a tough year.
At first, there was panic as businesses were forced to shut down and the livelihoods of millions were on the line.
Then, as the pandemic dragged on and businesses slowly reopened, we left the "panic zone" and entered the "learning zone."
We were forced to adopt new safety habits and comply with new safety regulations. During this time, many brains were hard at work, finding new safety solutions for the new, post-pandemic workplace. There were more discussions, more debates, more change, and more innovation.
2021 may bring the end of the pandemic.
But hopefully, we will hold on to the positives that came out of it--the passion for safety, the technological innovation, the flexibility to change, improvise, and develop in the face of challenges.
Hopefully, we continue to think outside our comfort zones, continue having those important safety discussions, and continue showing such responsibility for one another's safety as we've done when wearing masks in public.
For now, here are the best 9 workplace safety initiatives that 2021 will bring.
Safety Initiative #1: a renewed focus on Positive Safety Culture
When social distancing, masks, and a constant feeling of caution and vulnerability became part of our daily routines, self-awareness, empathy, and proactive risk management also made an appearance.
The greater health risks associated with physically coming into work and needing to work extra to make up for quarantined/sick coworkers required more understanding and appreciation for workers.
In speaking with Asphalt Pavement about the need for empathetic leadership in the construction industry, Zach Knoop, the General Manager of Safety Services at Caterpillar Inc., said:
"Look at employee retention and turnover, for example. People want to work for organizations or leaders that they believe genuinely care about them. If you only hire for the body and do not engage the hearts and minds of your workforce, they won’t stay around long."
Having the type of empathetic leadership that encourages strong employee retention during these stressful times of labor shortages makes all the difference for businesses.
Construction, manufacturing, agriculture and healthcare, for example, are industries that are were especially hard hit by COVID-19 and are now struggling to fill positions.
For example, Reuters recently reported on the difficulty of filling jobs on US farms after COVID-19 made it difficult for immigrant workers to travel into the US:
"Josh Beckley of Beckley Harvesting Inc, based in Atwood, Kansas, typically counts on migrants for about 30% of his workers. The most common visa for migrant agriculture workers is the H-2A, which allows workers to stay in the United States for months at a time to work on farms. This year, Beckley had no foreign laborers on his crew. He has struggled to find replacement workers, with many Americans unwilling to sign up for months of traveling through the U.S. farm belt. 'They called back and said, ‘Hey man, I just don’t think I should leave home with all this stuff going on,’ he said" (Reuters).
Further, a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk reported on the effects of COVID-19 on the construction industry. They found that 52% of survey respondents had a hard time filling some or all hourly craft positions:
For manufacturing, an industry with an aging workforce (a quarter of manufacturing workers are aged 55 or older), COVID-19 infection is an especially grave threat to workers. Further, the impending labor shortage within the industry has now been exacerbated by COVID-19. Employee retention in manufacturing is more important than ever.
The pressure on these industries to attract and retain employees has meant that proactive workplace safety measures and empathetic and caring leadership have become central to the survival of businesses.
Even if employee turnover wasn't an issue, it's not like anyone can afford to have a poor workplace safety culture and suffer a costly safety incident right now.
To determine if you have a positive workplace safety culture, read the 7 Characteristics of a Positive Safety Culture and take the quiz here.
Safety Initiative #2: More Mobile apps and tools
The entire world has become more digital this year.
Quick chats by the water cooler turned into emails, conference room meetings are now Zoom calls, every other original thought a Slack message. Everyone's doing virtual happy hours and playing each other on chess apps.
This has created the ideal environment for all the tech nerds waiting to pitch their unique new app ideas.
Globally, the average share of products/services that are partially or fully digitized spiked 20% when COVID-19 struck. (McKinsey & Company)
Meanwhile, the companies who embrace digital innovation continue to be success leaders in their industries.
According to McKinsey & Company, companies who were the first in their industries to experiment with new technologies or who invested more in technology were twice as likely to report outsize revenue growth than other companies (McKinsey & Company).
In safety-sensitive and essential workplaces, the combination of the need for a more positive workplace safety culture combined with the spike in digitalization created a greater demand for apps like AlertMeter® and the Global Virus Pass:
- A 60-second fit-for-work test, the AlertMeter® helps workplaces identify workers struggling to stay alert due to impairments such as fatigue, illness, intoxication, stress, dehydration, and more. Its ability to identify potentially impaired workers has allowed workplaces to quickly adopt a more proactive approach to workplace safety, improve productivity, reduce workplace safety incidents, and to cut worker's comp claims and drug testing costs.
- The Global Virus Pass is another app that has helped essential workplaces stay open, safe, and productive with features such as contact tracing, site access management, COVID-19 screening, access to COVID-19 tests, and more. Click here to schedule a demo and learn more.
Safety Initiative #3: Shifting focus from detection to prevention
Business stalls followed by labor shortages, worker burnout and turnover, higher operating costs, drops in productivity, and the general stress that's plagued industries throughout the pandemic have meant that the occasional workplace safety incident has become extra probable and extra disastrous.
In 2020, 51% of survey respondents said that improving incident management was their number one concern in a Verdantix survey comprising 403 safety managers from around the world.
It's not clear whether safety managers recognized the need for improvements in incident management even before COVID-19. However, it is clear that they're going to have to recognize it now that COVID-19 has made it impossible to successfully operate without a good incident management strategy.
Thankfully, technology has risen to the challenge. Predictive safety analytics software now allows workplaces to shift their primary focus from detecting workplace safety risks to preventing workplace safety risks.
According to Columbia Southern University,
"To remain competitive, companies will employ more and more machine-learning-dependent safety software and attempt to stop accidents in their tracks before they occur...This year will see an emphasis on quality safety data-gathering" (CSU).
A few apps that focus on preventing workplace safety risk before they pose a real threat to your operations include:
- PRISM: A software originally developed for miners which predicts when workers will reach dangerous fatigue levels and then sends them countermeasures and alerts, and notifies their supervisors when needed.
- AlertMeter®: A 60-second alertness test that allows safety managers to identify potentially impaired workers before they start working, instead of waiting for a post-accident drug test to reveal it.
- The Global Virus Pass: An app that manages site access so that workers who've tested positive for COVID-19, been exposed to COVID-19, or are displaying COVID-19 symptoms are denied site access, limiting exposure and preventing a COVID-19 outbreak.
- To learn more about these apps and to get all three-in-one, schedule a demo here.
Safety Initiative #4: New Smart PPE
Although smart PPE was already on the rise before COVID-19, the new demand created by front-line healthcare workers and essential workers may have helped speed up the introduction and implementation of such technologies.
As industrial workplaces opened back up post-lockdown, there was a spike in demand for smart PPE in order to ensure workplace safety compliance and limit exposure to the virus.
According to Globe Newswire,
"The havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has forced frontline workers to wear smart devices such as smart helmets and smart watches to screen and detect potentially infected people. These not only ensured quick detection of infection in people but also protected healthcare workers from catching the infection from patients" (Globe Newswire).
Another report states,
"The demand for smart PPE is expected to gain rapid momentum as the industrial sector is expected to invest heavily in smart PPE to provide a safe and secure work environment..." (Fortune Business Insights)
The latest PPE trends will include gear that will monitor users' health and gather important data such as blood pressure, steps, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, sweat levels, and vital signs. According to Columbia Southern University,
"In 2021, manufacturing and health care workers are hoping that PPE wear will also monitor workers' fatigue and alertness. This will allow managers to create schedules and propose breaks more efficiently" (Columbia Southern University).
Amongst these new PPE trends are:
Smart Shoes by Intellinium
Safety Initiative #5: A More holistic approach to health and safety
In addition to the stress on workers' physical health, COVID-19 also presented equal or greater burdens on workers' mental health.
As workers coped with the loss of loved ones, adopted new lifestyles of isolation, quarantines, and lockdowns, struggled against the uncertainty of their lives and livelihoods, and undertook new responsibilities in their homes, the mental burden of COVID-19 became impossible to ignore.
The mental health burden on frontline healthcare workers is most profound, for obvious reasons. One nurse working at an Emergency Department in a UK hospital said,
“Every day we are relying on the goodwill of colleagues to come in to do extra shifts. The extra support we had in the first wave, with free food, transport, and extra pay for additional shifts has been scrapped. Many of us who aren't from the UK feel isolated and drained, and haven’t seen our families for eight or nine months. I have never seen so many nurses cry during shifts. Every shift is a struggle" (Independent).
Although healthcare workers have received the brunt of the burden, many other essential workers as well as remote workers are having to cope with mental issues like anxiety, depression, and burnout.
"67% of U.S. workers say they’re burned out" (Gallup).
With these massive new struggles, all workplaces have had to acknowledge the importance of mental health, no matter how macho the industry may be.
Kathryn Mayer, benefits editor at Human Resources Executives said,
"Mental health is on track to become its own pandemic in the years to come—and employers need to work fast to get ahead of it" (HRE).
In 2021, workplaces will go to greater lengths to accommodate and address mental health. This initiative may take the form of:
- use of technology to identify struggling workers, such as the AlertMeter® app
- more resources devoted to mental health training and workplace counseling
- more flexible scheduling options, better benefits and rewards
- more empathetic and compassionate leaders.
Safety Initiative #6: Autonomous vehicles
With workplace safety technology quickly sweeping through every industry due to COVID-19 concerns, transportation will also enjoy its fair share of advanced safety technology.
The past few years have seen many developments in automatic safety features within transportation vehicles.
Between 2010 and 2016, large truck drivers benefited from the introduction of advanced driver assistance features such as:
- Rearview Video Systems
- Automatic Emergency Braking
- Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking
- Rear Automatic Emergency Braking
- Rear Cross Traffic Alert
- Lane Centering Assist
Since then, partially automated safety features like the following have been implemented:
- Lane keeping assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Traffic jam assist
In 2021, we will see wider implementation of partially automated workplace safety features as well as continued development in fully automated safety features and a highway autopilot feature. For a list of the 7 best fleet safety technologies in 2020 and beyond, click here.
Safety Initiative #7: Increased communication, counseling, and training
With issues such as burnout, absenteeism, employee turnover, heightened mental health concerns, a new focus on positive workplace safety culture, and brand new technologies, frequent and effective training and communication will become paramount in 2021.
Health and safety managers will be tasked with onboarding and training new workers taking over for sick, burnt out, or quarantined workers.
In their heightened awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues this year, safety supervisors and managers will set apart more resources to identify and assist employees who may be struggling. Implementing an effective response to such issues will require more training for all managers and workers.
As new technologies enter the workplace, more time will be spent training workers and their managers on how to use them.
Some technological tools will further facilitate increased communication.
AlertMeter®, for example, notifies supervisors when a worker is struggling to stay focused and alert so that the two may meet and discover the underlying issue before it poses a threat to workplace safety.
Finally, the pressure to create a more positive workplace safety culture in 2021 will in itself require increased communication, counseling, and training in the workplace.
Safety Initiative #8: More safety professionals
With all the added pressure to create a safe, healthy, happy, and productive workplace in 2021, there will be a greater demand for well-rounded and ambitious safety professionals.
As health and safety takes on a more holistic meaning, the safety professionals of 2021 will need to be empathetic and compassionate leaders with an understanding of common mental health issues.
They will need to be relatively tech-savvy and keep up with all the new technological workplace safety tools in order to remain competitive.
They will need to be good communicators and, prompted by more alerts and notifications, will need to make time to speak directly with workers to identify and address issues.
Thankfully, the explosion of online certifications, webinars, and workshops with the outbreak of COVID-19 has made it more convenient to get the necessary training and certifications to become a safety professional in the demanding 2021 safety-sensitive workplace.
Safety Initiative #9: unified leadership to balance safety and productivity
COVID-19 made health and safety a priority for everyone--from the CEOs down to each front-line worker.
Safety concerns trumped productivity demands as businesses were forced to shut down and many employees prioritized their health and safety over wages.
"A lot of employees, like customers, remain reluctant to balance personal safety with wages. According to a study by Branch, despite a loss of income, 53% of employees were hesitant or declined to apply to new jobs due to fear of exposure" (QSR Magazine).
In 2021, the challenge for everyone will be to meet increased productivity demands without throwing safety out the window.
Balancing these two priorities will require strong and unified leadership amongst all managers and supervisors, open communication between workers, managers, and executives, and a shared overarching mission that engages every member of the company.
To learn more about perfecting this delicate balance, read 3 Ways to Balance Safety and Productivity here.
In order to remain competitive in 2021, safety-sensitive workplaces will need to continue prioritizing safety even after we've defeated COVID-19.
They can do so by working to implement these 9 safety initiatives that all industry leaders will embrace in 2021:
- Safety Initiative #1: A renewed focus on Positive Safety Culture
- Safety Initiative #2: More mobile apps and tools
- Safety Initiative #3: Shifting focus from detection to prevention
- Safety Initiative #4: New smart PPE
- Safety Initiative #5: A more holistic approach to health and safety
- Safety Initiative #6: Autonomous vehicles
- Safety Initiative #7: Increased communication, counseling, and training
- Safety Initiative #8: More safety professionals
- Safety Initiative #9: Unified leadership to balance safety and productivity
For a quick leg up on initiatives number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9, learn more about AlertMeter® and the Global Virus Pass.
Besides being the only real-time impairment test of its kind, the AlertMeter can help take your safety culture to the next level, improve productivity, reduce turnover, and cut worker's comp claims.
If you would also like a COVID-19 specific solution, ask us about getting both tools in one app!