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Resilience Through Uncertainty

May 05, 2020
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Last fall, I shared three megatrends that ASSP’s Board of Directors had identified as having the greatest impact on the OSH profession: 1) the changing world of work; 2) work redefined; and 3) the learning landscape.

The pace of that change has increased exponentially over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More employees are working remotely; learning and meetings have shifted to virtual spaces; organizations are applying the hierarchy of controls as they reimagine their work environments; and the general public has been introduced to widespread use of PPE.

Extraordinary events like this create change that results in a new normal. Before Sept. 11, 2001, air travelers would never have conceived of the security measures now taken before passengers can board a plane. The 2008 recession prompted the growth of the gig economy and larger investments in technology and automation.

Even after COVID-19 is under control, our work environments likely will not return fully to what they were before the pandemic. As safety professionals, adapting to the current pace of the change means that we must be even more resilient to ensure the safety and health of our workers.

In uncertain times such as these, it is easy to be consumed by the negativity related to the pandemic and to fixate on the many changes happening in the world. I am reminded of what C.S. Lewis wrote in his 1948 essay, “On Living in the Atomic Age.” As you read the following passage, replace atomic and atomic bomb with COVID-19:

In one way, we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. . . . The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.

During the many walks I have taken over the past few months (practicing physical/social distancing, of course), I have been constantly amazed by how plants are able to grow in an environment that seems uninhabitable. Their resilience is remarkable.

Our profession and our professional association have survived wars, depressions, recessions, terrorist attacks and civil unrest. As safety professionals, we must tap into our resilience and use it not only to grow but also to thrive “where we are planted.” Our organizations and our workers need our expertise and support to navigate through these changing times.

ASSP is here to help by providing resources we all can use to help our organizations respond to and recover from this crisis. We are also looking at changing how we do business so that we can become even more efficient and effective in delivering value to all members.

Our worlds may be turned upside down now, but we can and will get through this. Working together, we will create a safer, stronger future.

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