Safety + Health at Work: Addressing the Challenges of a Changing Workplace

Deb Kirby

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May 12, 2022

As employees begin returning to a dramatically changed workplace, managers should be aware of what those changes mean for their employees' safety, security and health. We are at a point in our collective work environments where safety culture and employee support are leading indicators of an organization's overall long-term health. Managers who effectively address safety and health in the workplace help ensure employees’ security, well-being, and morale and improve retention and productivity, which increases the overall bottom line.

Employee Support Improves Safety and Productivity

Given the wide range of employee and client needs, there are no set guidelines for navigating the return-to-work environment. Some companies have employees returning to the workplace in phases, while others are committed to an open choice model as a way to allow employees to be productive and feel secure. Regardless of how employers choose to have their employees return to work, there will be implementation challenges due to stress from the return and issues associated with collaboration in the hybrid work environment.

The stress associated with a new working environment should not be underestimated. Across the globe, workdays lost to occupational safety and health-related events are estimated to account for almost 4% of the global GDP. The United Nations identifies new working conditions, such as higher workloads and increased demands on employee productivity, as risk factors for work-related accidents, injuries and illnesses. Additionally, as workers return to the office, changes in routine, rising costs associated with transportation and other needs (e.g., securing childcare) add to the overall stress already present in the workforce.

Supervisor training is one way to help managers identify and engage with employees experiencing workplace stress. HR professionals and trained supervisors can recognize early signs of stress before it results in disruptive behaviors. They can also assist with interventions and de-escalation efforts that support the employee. Overall, managers who focus on socialization, defined conduct policies and mental health service referrals help build a support and safety culture. Workers who feel valued create a safer, more productive workforce and, in turn, provide better client support and service delivery.

Security Planning Increases Safety

Managers must also ensure employees' physical safety in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cites safety as a top concern for employees returning to work. Assessing the sufficiency of access controls and security operations plans, in addition to infectious disease exposure-response protocols, ensures a robust safety plan. Strategic and consistent security planning helps avert and mitigate traumatic workplace events, thereby minimizing their potential impact on employees' health and well-being.

As part of a return-to-work strategy, managers should consider reviewing existing security, operations and emergency plans. Since many real estate companies used the downtime during the pandemic to update and refresh facilities, there will likely be changes in rosters, where people are located, how people are contacted and even physical office structure. Many organizations have seen a need for supplemental planning review and development due to changes made in the last two years.

In addition to providing employee training on new and updated protocols, managers should also test existing protocols as this allows the organization to evaluate gaps or challenges ahead of a crisis. Planning, training and exercises always increase safety.

Greater safety and support for workers benefit us all. At Jensen Hughes, we work with our clients to "protect what matters" and recognize the value of keeping workers, clients, and workplace environments safe. Click here to learn more about our security risk consulting services.

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About the author

Debra K. Kirby
Debra brings command experience in patrol operations, investigations, organized crime, law enforcement training, policy development, data-led policing and internal affairs with an acute focus on integrity systems, covert operations and the need for strong accountability practices in support of operational priorities.