As large portions of the workforce return to in-office settings, organizations around the world are still grappling with the challenges of COVID-19 and the rise of the Delta variant, while working to ensure their colleagues are meeting compliance standards relative to workplace safety.
Employee safety and compliance training has been placed on the backburner for many, as businesses struggle to deal with changing in-office, remote, and hybrid workforce arrangements on the fly in the wake of shifting recommendations and regulations relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As employees return to the workplace, HR personnel are realizing the need to provide training on both standard workplace safety and renewed precautions relative to the pandemic.
Additionally, many teams are allowing those employees who enjoyed working from home to continue doing so, presenting another challenge for HR teams on developing hybrid materials to increase the efficacy of the training sessions for both remote and in-office team members.
Ultimately, regulations exist to keep employees safe, but if broken, failure to comply with governing bodies like the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can also mean big lapses in productivity for a business caused by shutdowns or mandatory mass training sessions.
The following are some tips for HR staff to efficiently and creatively ensure their teams are trained (or retrained) on all things regarding workplace safety, whether related to the pandemic or not.
What Makes a Workplace Safe?
First things first: legally speaking, a safe workplace is one that is in compliance with guidance provided by OSHA. This doesn’t just apply to physical safety. A heavy construction team may hear about OSHA more often than a web development team, but it doesn’t mean the latter is immune to OSHA regulations, especially relative to the threats from COVID-19 and mental health, which has affected many during the pandemic.
In addition to pointing out the more obvious safety precautions, OSHA also encourages safety awareness by, for example, outlining how many breaks employees should take, and providing information on advancements in technology that can help reduce long-term issues related to typing, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, etc.
Physical safety, mental health, and environmental awareness relative to both in-office (cleaning chemicals, fire extinguishers, etc.) and out-of-office (tornado season, excessive heat, etc.) aspects all are parts of creating a safe workspace, and all need to be regularly communicated to teams.
Delivery methods must evolve with the times, but if conducted correctly, you can bring a lot of people back up to speed in a short amount of time.
Five Steps to Train Your Team for Compliance
1. Take a survey
Because the Delta variant continues to cause challenges across the globe, masking, social distancing, and other precautions adapted to prevent the spread of the virus remain important. The CDC has released guidance relating to the return to the brick-and-mortar office setting, and is a great resource for creating questions for employees relative to a given work environment.
Here are a few ideas for questions you may want to include:
- Do you have family members at home who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19?
- Are you personally at a high risk of contracting COVID-19?
- How do you get to work? (public transit, for instance, means more exposure to people)
- Are you vaccinated or do you plan on becoming vaccinated?
- Are you minimizing interactions with strangers? If so, how?
This survey can also serve a two-fold purpose to help you get to know the people you work with a little better, ultimately allowing you to perform your duties in a way that suits them best.
2. Create an official procedure for employees who feel ill
Minimizing exposure to COVID-19 is still very important. Given the spread of the Delta variant, some companies are postponing return-to-office mandates, adjusting their hybrid models, or re-instituting social distancing and mask wearing, even for those who are fully vaccinated. If feasible, allowing some employees to work from home is better than an office shutting down because of an outbreak.
Creating a self-check document for team members to reference if they feel they may have symptoms of COVID also enables them to share specific reasons why they feel they should not be in the office, which creates a level of accountability.
3. Train on hazards that aren’t COVID-related
When it comes to in-office personnel, training can be similar in style to the COVID-19 precautions document, but will have a lot more longevity, as these hazards were present long before the virus, and will remain so long after the pandemic finally ceases. Most of these issues are relevant for at-home employees, too.
- Trip hazards – Wet floor signs save injuries. Be sure your team knows that identifying temporary hazards (e.g., a wet floor on a rainy day) is everyone’s responsibility. Similar risks include uneven walkways, poor lighting in hallways, temporary extension cords, and post-cleaning wet floors.
- Fire safety – Most people are naturally conscious of these hazards, but be sure to train on how to spot overheating in electronics, heat sources in colder climates, and large quantities of potential “fuel” like paper or cardboard. Refresh everyone on fire escape routes, and be sure all exits are free of debris.
- Electrical hazards – Similar to some fire hazards, training on proper handling and disposal of faulty or frayed electronic equipment is extremely important, as employees are 20 times more likely to be injured in an electrical accident than any other type of workplace hazard. All equipment should be professionally checked for safe use before anyone returns to the office.
- Posture and screen time – Comfort is important, but improper use of office furniture can lead to physical issues that can sideline employees for extended periods of time. Offering standing desks is a great way to help employees with their posture. Screen use is also a key aspect of most office jobs, but employees should know to clean their screens, limit glare, and take multiple breaks throughout the day.
- Environment – Environmental hazards, such as flood possibility or snow, affect everyone in the same way, but for remote employees, those environments can be a world away. Ask your remote employees about the weather and frequency of natural disasters in their areas, and provide them with relevant training on how to deal with possible hazards such as excess heat or tornados in their areas.
- Mental health – It’s much easier to hide emotional or psychological issues in a remote setting, so it’s important to discuss mental health with your remote employees. No matter their location, it’s your job to make sure they have what they need to perform at their highest levels, including a clear and positive mindset.
4. Create multi-dimensional training
If your team is spread across the country or the globe, knowing preferences in how team members digest new information will ensure a deeper understanding of the material being presented. When it comes to safety, deep understanding means a healthy and able team.
If time allows, create materials that cater to auditory learners, visual learners, verbal learners (listen and repeat), group learners, and solitary learners to deliver training that is applicable to everyone. Technology is on your side, and creating multi-dimensional lessons, and allowing those who desire to learn to move at their own pace is the best way to get people actively engaged.
5. Make training extra accessible
If your team hasn’t set up a web-based project management platform, such as Asana or Google Workspace, this can be a great place to start. And for those who have, be sure to post your training assignments in these locations, send them via email, and mention them frequently the next time your team is together, even if some people are working remotely.
Hybrid meetings are a great way to get your remote employees involved in conversations, as they can at least see and feel the camaraderie and brainstorming occurring from the in-person members attending the training session.
In a nutshell, marrying creativity and technology will give you the best chance at getting your team to take these trainings seriously. Following the same model for all of the necessary non-COVID safety refreshers should also prove successful with a few tweaks.
Tomorrow Will Have Its Own Challenges
Changes in safety regulations are frequent, and there is still uncertainty surrounding the move back to normalcy. Though few people will have it easy during the transition, HR teams face the most challenges, as regulations and guidance are frequently changing, thus training needs to follow suit. New regulations are frequent, but OSHA has a nice tab on their website that educates you on “What’s New” covering the latest news released in the last 30 days.
More Workplace Safety Information
As a reference for creating your own training program and a guide to further prepare your team for their transitions back to an in-office environment, download this FREE ebook, and encourage your team to do the same.
This eBook provides a deeper look at many of the points touched on here, and will also provide knowledge and insight on how to continue this transition as the threat of COVID-19 eventually fades.