Businesses are being urged to focus on known and understood health and safety risks, alongside those of COVID-19, to limit any spike in incident numbers as we leave Level 4 lockdown.
The comments from Greg Dearsly, President of the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM), echo those of the Government’s support of “safe” economic activity at Level 3 and the importance of staying safe and looking after each other.
He points out that leaving lockdown and getting back to business will be more challenging than the annual return to work after the long summer break when there’s often an increase in serious workplace injuries and fatalities because people take time to get back into work mode after a break.
While New Zealand has been immersed in COVID-19 related health and safety conversation for weeks, the usual health and safety risks still exist for all organisations and need special attention:
“After a lot of inactivity businesses will want to make up for lost ground but rushing isn’t going to help,” he says.
“We need to take it a step at a time especially now we also have to consider additional safe work practices such as social distancing. In this new environment the risks have increased and this means extra health and safety effort is essential.
“The first consideration for all businesses should be workers’ mental health,” he says. “It will be important to check-in with everyone as we return. People need to understand each others’ situations after being in lockdown, so we can be safer together.”
Dearsly also emphasises the importance of post lockdown “return to work” days where people are able to re-familiarise themselves with equipment and operations.
“There will be different needs for different sectors, including checking equipment that’s been inactive for weeks and then reviewing operations and day to day processes to make sure we all remain safe.
“The best advice is to follow the three principles: leadership and communication across the whole workplace, management of business as usual risks with those related to COVID-19 and regular worker discussion and engagement.”
Leaving lockdown is a first for everyone – there will be new pressures including financial, uncertainty about the future and even business viability.
Safe working also now means rules around social distancing and high standards of hygiene. This doesn’t just mean personal but also making sure equipment used by different people is sanitised regularly to prevent the virus from surviving on different surfaces.
“These topics have been discussed in the media and amongst ourselves for weeks, but this new COVID environment is not an excuse to take eyes off the risks that already exist,” he says.
“This pandemic has shown that as a country we place the health and the safety of our people ahead of everything – Kiwis have shown this by their commitment to adhering to lock down rules. I would encourage businesses to maintain this spirit as we start to return to work.”
He also highlighted that no organisation will have all the answers in this new health and safety environment so they shouldn’t hesitate to seek credible advice from different experts. Many are industry specific, including NZISM accredited practitioners and professionals, and those registered through the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ).