Managing back-to-work risks post-lockdown

4 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 24, 2020

Greg Dearsly, President NZISM

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.

Greg Dearsly, president of the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM), says that leaving lockdown and getting back to business will be more challenging than the annual return to work after the long summer break. Returning to work after a break often sees an increase in serious workplace injuries and fatalities because people take time to get back into work mode. 

“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 that we also have to consider additional safe work practices such as social distancing.”

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.

“The first consideration for all businesses should be workers‘ mental health,” Dearsly says. “It will be important to check in with everyone as we return. People need to understand each other‘s 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 refamiliarise 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. 

“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, notes the NZISM – 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 only mean personal hygiene 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-19 environment is not an excuse to take your eyes off the risks that already exist,” Dearsly says.

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).