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A big part of how the WCB supports injury prevention in our province is the work our Relationship Managers and Workplace Consultants do in workplaces, helping employers implement strategies to reduce injuries and improve return to work outcomes.
That work has changed dramatically in recent weeks, as workplaces have adjusted their operations to meet new COVID-19 public health requirements, including the WCB, which has curtailed in-person visits and transitioned employees to working from home.
According to WCB Relationship Manager Ian MacDonald, employer needs for support right now vary from sector to sector. “Some employers have dramatically reduced their operations, while others – especially in essential services sectors - have ramped up to deal with pandemic.”
He says a few are using the time they have available now to make improvements to their occupational health and safety and return to work systems and processes. “In many workplaces, this pandemic has increased the level of focus on health and safety,” says Ian.
WCB Workplace Consultant Tanya Newell agrees. She says it’s important for employers dealing with COVID-19 challenges to stay focused on working safely. It’s important that any changes an employer makes to tackle Covid 19 don’t undermine other areas of their safety program or create other hazards. She recommends employers continue to take a hazard identification, assessment and control approach for all of their COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies.
“A good example is the increased need for hand washing in workplaces now,” says Tanya. “The frequency and position of sinks could mean there’s more water on the floor, which could be creating a slip and fall hazard that didn’t exist before. A rigorous hazard identification approach will help ensure new practices don’t create more risks.”
Both Tanya and Ian, who before the pandemic spent most of their time working with employers and workers in the workplace, are now providing support using online meeting technologies like Skype, Zoom, and GoTo Meeting.
They say that while people always value face-to-face interaction, working online has some big advantages too. “I can have a meeting with an employer in Yarmouth, and as soon as I’m done I can hop into another meeting with a workplace in Amherst, and after that attend another meeting in HRM,” says Ian. “The ability to eliminate travel time while still having an interaction more personal than a phone call is huge.”
While Tanya agrees with Ian on the benefits, she says working online makes it more challenging to gain an in-depth understanding of the work and the hazards within a particular workplace. She also misses the opportunities being on site provides to connect with front-line staff.
In terms of prevention advice for workplaces during the pandemic, Ian and Tanya suggest:
• Listening to your people and letting them know you’re there to support them
• Staying focused on all the other aspects of health, safety, and return to work – even though the pandemic is top of mind, all of the usual hazards and issues are still there
• If you have staff working from home – making sure you reach out to them regularly.
• Engaging and empowering your JOHSCs and safety reps to help you work through the employee safety challenges Covid 19 presents.
• Reaching to the WCB, other safety resources, and your peer workplaces to share learnings around employee health and safety.
• This is also a great time to have people working from home tackle a safety project, or do safety research to compile best practices that can be put in place down the road when life returns to normal.
Employers interested in getting direct support for their prevention and return to work programs from the WCB team can do that in a couple of ways: large workplaces can start by contacting their Relationship Manager. Small workplaces who have a claim can ask their case worker. All employers and workers can visit worksafeforlife.ca anytime, for a full range of prevention tools and resources, including new resources to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.