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Four Ways to Be an Effective Safety Leader During a Pandemic

Apr 23, 2020
Young woman safety professional discussing strategy

During times of great uncertainty and upheaval, workers look to their leaders for a sense of security and resolve.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals play a key role in helping their organizations navigate changing workplace realities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are four ways you can be an effective leader and help your organization emerge stronger from this crisis.

1. Provide Effective Solutions

Few solutions in safety are one-size-fits-all, so most OSH professionals are skilled at adapting to the needs of their specific work environment and workforce.

While COVID-19 presents unique challenges, safety professionals have relevant knowledge and skills to help their organizations adjust — from disaster recovery principles and the hierarchy of controls to the plan-do-check-act model that is a fundamental element of OSH management systems.

“We can highlight the value we bring to our organizations overall, rather than focusing exclusively on compliance and traditional safety,” says Diana Stegall, CSP, CFPS, ARM, SMS, CPCU, who served as ASSP's 2019-20 president.

Many OSH professionals are being asked to apply their technical expertise in the rapidly changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Given all the unknowns involved, protective measures and work practices also continue to evolve.

“Your guidance today should include the best solutions given what is currently doable or known,” Stegall explains. “It’s important to acknowledge your limitations, take advantage of resources that are available and connect with other safety professionals.”

2. Learn and Share Carefully

As information about COVID-19 continues to change, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of sifting through it all. The first step in managing the flow of information is to start with credible sources, such as government agencies, public health authorities, and reputable safety and health organizations.

“Too many people tend to click on the first thing they see on the internet and may not assess whether it is credible,” Stegall explains.

You can take this initial vetting process to the next level by assessing how the information you find applies to your operations and company culture. This also means weeding out irrelevant details.

“Taking this next step enhances your credibility, not only as a technical expert but also as someone who understands the company and its operations,” Stegall says. “By showing your leadership team you understand the business as a whole and how safety fits within the operation, you can help them better manage overall risk.”

3. Plan for the Future

Most OSH professionals know that OSHA regulations are only a starting point for creating a safe workplace. While compliance is required, it’s not enough to protect workers.

“Now more than ever, we need to recognize that regulations are outdated and certainly do not keep up with times of uncertainty,” Stegall says.

In certain situations, regulatory agencies like OSHA may temporarily alter enforcement guidance or even suspend some requirements for specific employers. It’s important to respond to those changes, while understanding they likely won’t last forever.

“We need to develop transition plans so we are not caught off guard when all of a sudden we have to comply with things that we didn't have to comply with in the midst of the crisis,” she explains.

Your transition plan should account for a range of risk mitigation measures, including refresher safety training for those returning to the work site.

4. Show Extra Compassion

During a crisis, Stegall says it is important to show compassion and provide stability. This starts with understanding your personal leadership style and exploring how you can demonstrate those qualities.

 “Stop and ask yourself, ‘Am I providing hope? Do I understand how my team is feeling? Am I helping create a sense that we are all in this together?’” she says.

The uncertainty created by a crisis can cause fear among workers and their families. You can offer a calming presence and show workers you care by listening to how they feel and paying attention to their concerns.

“We can do this by communicating early and often, sharing information and maintaining a sense of team,” she says. “Thankfully, technology makes this possible even when physical distancing measures prevent the in-person interactions that we often rely on to build relationships and provide coaching, training and guidance.”

For more insight on how you can help your organization navigate a crisis, watch our free webinar with Diana Stegall.

Related Links
Our World Has Changed
How Your Safety Management System Can Help in a Pandemic
Safety News You Need: Safety Training


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