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Defining the “New Normal” in Safety

Insights blog - Safety - Gannett Fleming.
Author: Paula Loht, CIH, CSP, Corporate Safety Director

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has become the number-one threat to public safety, which means it’s now a major focus of corporate safety.

Corporate safety teams across the country, including our own, are learning valuable lessons about keeping our teams safe and healthy now and in the future.

The availability and importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical. Understanding how prepared is well prepared, especially when it comes to PPE availability, is something we’re all experiencing firsthand as we’ve worked hard to find gloves, masks, and disinfectant wipes. When the threat of COVID-19 lessens, it will be much easier to explain to the C-suite how large of a stockpile we will need for future pandemic preparedness.

We need to place an equal emphasis on visible and invisible safety threats. To most, safety is a very tangible thing. We see hard hats, reflective vests, and hazard cones, and it’s clear where the safety hazards lie. That’s not the case with COVID-19, where carriers can be asymptomatic. This pandemic will cause safety teams to place a greater emphasis on the more invisible health threats to our employees.

Balancing the new safety requirements with the old will be particularly challenging. As summer approaches in North America, COVID-19 isn’t the only safety hazard. Incidences of Lyme disease, sunburn, heat exhaustion, and more, are still probable. Safety messaging, especially for field workers, should go beyond COVID-19 to remind employees that handwashing and social distancing are safety steps they should take on top of what they should already be doing to secure their safety, not in lieu of it.

The workforce dynamic has changed dramatically, and this means our jobs have, too. Overnight, we went from having approximately 75% of employees in offices and 25% in the field to 85% of employees working from home with 15% in the field. This shift has dramatically changed the focus for our Corporate Safety Team. Getting quick, accurate information to field workers who are most at risk based on their exposure and work was critical, but we also needed to support business continuity and employee safety at home. That meant ensuring employees knew how to work remotely and could get important information from us, then discussing COVID-19 related preparedness and its effects on mental and physical health, and finally talking about hazards at home like tripping and electrical concerns, as well as how to adjust their workstations to make them more ergonomic.

Our proactive safety culture at Gannett Fleming is built around a motto: “Safety is in Our Hands.” This means we claim responsibility for making safety a priority–not just for ourselves, but for our peers, our clients, and our families, too. This “new normal” amid the pandemic is challenging our society in ways we’ve never been challenged before, but it also has elevated the safety focus, which will ultimately benefit all of us in the long run.

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