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Health and Safety Committees Gone Virtual

SOURCE: Inogen Alliance

DESCRIPTION:

Across the globe, companies have been in a constant state of pivoting to address new concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. What hasn’t changed are the basic Occupational Health and Safety guidelines we follow. Even though offices are shuttered, or workforces reduced, that doesn’t mean that your Health and Safety Committee can fall by the wayside. Countries, states, or provinces such as Ontario, France, Germany, or Japan, are still requiring meetings despite the shift to virtual work.

Relevant Health and Safety Meeting Topics

For workforces that are solely working at home, completing a site inspection isn’t feasible and doesn’t make sense. The goal of inspections is to address risks and hazards, so in a virtual world what are the new risks and hazards? Committees can spend time discussing topics such as ergonomics, mental stress, lone working, and home office safety concerns; topics that are truly impacting the working from home workforce.

Planning for Return

Many countries require that your committee be involved in COVID-19 planning. They will need to be part of the development process for return to office protocols. Note that in France you may need to work with your committee to determine strategies for monitoring employee workload and working environments while working from home.

Giving Everyone a Voice

With this new working from home or hybrid workforce, how do you ensure that everyone can speak up about safety issues? Consider having “open door” virtual committee meetings for anyone to attend to ask questions. Continue to push out content that is specific to your new diverse workforce.

The Hybrid Committee

For companies transitioning to a hybrid work model consider the new make-up of your committee. You may want a mix of those returning to the office, splitting time between the office and home, or those working from home full-time. While these groups might be experiencing different concerns, having a diverse group can be beneficial. It allows the group to see problems from a different perspective, keeps everyone tied into the concerns of the office and the home, and provides an opportunity for local engagement with potentially a different group of people.

Global Perspectives

Terrapex, Canada - Rod Rose

From your perspective, what is Ontario’s stance on safety committees during COVID-19 when a workforce might be working from home or have partial staff in an office?

The consensus with everyone I have spoken to on this topic is that having a workforce move to remote work in response to COVID-19 does not really affect the obligation for a functioning committee. Committee meetings, or meetings with worker health and safety representatives, should not be cancelled or suspended. In fact, committees have a right to participate in the development of workplace prevention and response strategies dealing with the virus, and with re-opening and back –to work. Employers also have obligations to consult with committees on their plans. Since the start of COVID-19, there have been so COVID-19 clearly represents a significant risk to Ontario workplaces, and it seems to me that the arrival of a significant new risk is not the time to reduce worker involvement in health and safety, but rather the opposite.

Do you believe enforcement for safety committees is relaxed right now (meaning should employers be worried about non-compliance)?

Historically, not having a functioning safety committee has been one of the most common orders issued by Ministry of Labour inspectors. If the Ministry comes into a workplace for any reason (injury investigation or complaint etc.) they will ask about the committee. I would not expect any lenience and would expect at least a warning if the committee has not been meeting.

What is your personal #1 reason for maintaining a safety committee right now, regardless of where your employees are working?

Personally, I think the biggest benefit of having a safety committee is simply having engaged workers. In my experience, it is easy to assume because you have good policies that you have good practices. In reality, sometimes there can be significant gaps that are best identified by the workers. If the workers are involved and engaged, hazards are more likely to be identified and addressed.

HPC, Germany - Selvi Kocak-Pasolar

From your perspective, what is Germany’s stance on safety committees during COVID-19 when a workforce might be working from home or have partial staff in an office?

Based on my own experience and projects, regardless of the Covid-19 situation (workforce working from home or have partial staff in an office), the companies do continue to have the quarterly safety committee meetings by virtual means such as via Microsoft Teams, GTM, Webex and others.

Do you believe enforcement for safety committees is relaxed right now (meaning should employers be worried about non-compliance)?

On the one hand, the situation is supposedly somewhat relaxed with regard to the enforcement of safety committees, as many authorities are themselves restricted in their work or work more slowly due to the pandemic. On the other hand, new acts have already been passed in response to some incidents (i.e. non-observance of hygiene rules in meat processing plants regarding Covid-19).
One of these new acts prescribes mandatory inspections for the occupational health and safety authorities in all sectors:

  • Every year, at least five percent of all companies in the respective federal states are to be inspected by the competent labour protection authorities for compliance with labour law regulations.
  • A federal agency at the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) is to be established to ensure compliance with the quota.
  • The results of the inspections must be transferred to the competent accident insurance institution.

What is your personal #1 reason for maintaining a safety committee right now, regardless of where your employees are working

The safety committee continues to be an important platform to keep in touch with various stakeholders regarding occupational safety and health. Especially during the pandemic, it is even more important to exchange information on which of the planned and implemented measures are working, where there is a need for action and whether there are adjustments needed related to staff concerns. In addition, the safety committee continues to be important for presenting and explaining new legal requirements to a wider circle and for jointly deciding how new obligations can be implemented; and as always, you should always stay in communication to be able to overcome possible challenges in a timely manner.

Propharm, Japan - Hiroshi Tachikawa

From your perspective, what is Japan’s stance on safety committees during COVID-19 when a workforce might be working from home or have partial staff in an office?

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) encourages the employer to hold a health committee.

Do you believe enforcement for safety committees is relaxed right now (meaning should employers be worried about non-compliance)?

I do not see any relaxing measures by the government.

What is your personal #1 reason for clients to maintain a safety committee right now, regardless of where employees are working?

They do need it to update COVID related status in relation to their employee health management and governmental regulatory requirement/guidance (changed very frequently).

Antea Group, USA - Kylle Barrieau

From your perspective, what is the United States’ stance on safety committees during COVID-19 when a workforce might be working from home or have partial staff in an office?

While federal OSHA doesn’t require a safety committee, many states like California and Oregon may require one based on your organization. It’s important to remember that the pandemic hasn’t alleviated employers from following federal or state OSHA. You must sill follow the regulations applicable to your organization. That being said how you conduct meetings and what you discuss might change.

Do you believe enforcement for safety committees is relaxed right now (meaning should employers be worried about non-compliance)?

The National Emphasis Program for 2021 is targeting COVID-19 compliance so the focus might be there, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t ask about it, if it is applicable.

What is your personal #1 reason for clients to maintain a safety committee right now, regardless of where employees are working?

Safety Committees are a great way to get the pulse of your employees. They also provide a way for people to bring up concerns, which could include things you haven’t even considered. Also, if you already have one running it will be one less thing to ramp up when office reopen.

Inogen Alliance is a global network made up of dozens of independent local businesses and over 5,000 consultants around the world who can help make your project a success. Our Associates collaborate closely to serve multinational corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, and we share knowledge and industry experience to provide the highest quality service to our clients. If you want to learn more about how you can work with Inogen Alliance, you can explore our Associates on this webpage or Contact Us. Watch for more News & Blog updates here and follow us on LinkedIn.

About Inogen Alliance

We are an Alliance of consultants that can provide global coverage through one point of contact for environmental, health, safety, and sustainability efforts at your company. Together by choice for 20 years, our Alliance has unparalleled global coverage and a committed team that will partner with you in solving your EHS challenges, resolving liabilities from the past, addressing today's requirements and delivering innovative solutions for the future. Learn more at https://www.inogenalliance.com.

Tweet me: Across the globe, companies have been pivoting to address new concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. What hasn’t changed are the basic Occupational Health and Safety guidelines. Learn more from Inogen Alliance about how safety committees are adapting: https://bit.ly/36wz5Vm

KEYWORDS: Inogen Alliance, safety, workplace safety, health and safety

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