Taking Some COVID-19 Lessons Learned Into 2021

First and foremost, I would like to thank Patrick Saltmarsh for taking the time to write Safety Corner articles for the last two years. 

He created an engaging monthly article for relevant safety information.  I’m looking forward to sharing my experience as a Safety Professional with Construction Outlook readers and building on Patrick’s momentum throughout the coming year

As we turn the page and begin 2021, we look back on what 2020 brought us.  Many would like to forget about 2020 altogether.  I am suggesting you look at it differently.  What if 2020 was the best year of your life?  Think about that for a minute.  Let the thought sink in.  You were forced to face challenge after challenge.  You were forced to adapt and overcome obstacles you might never have otherwise encountered.  You were forced to be more resilient than you thought possible.  2020 forced everyone to grow.  Not just a little, but exponentially.

We have all heard of the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Another word for invention is innovation and that is exactly what we all have had to do thanks to COVID-19 … innovate.  Some Things may never go back to the way it once was and, from a health and safety standpoint, that might not be so bad.

Prior to 2020, my bet is not many people had been on a video conference call, let alone know how to conduct one.  We quickly learned the dynamics of video conferencing.  We learned the magic of the mute button, that you need to be aware of your surroundings while on a video call, and that sometimes you can get away with wearing shorts since you are only visible from the chest up, sometimes.

Innovation did not stop there though.  Decades old methods used for Safety teaching and training were suddenly thrown to the side and a new style was forced to be developed.  Virtual training brought on the ability to reach a larger audience.  However, you cannot just take the classroom curriculum and throw it into the virtual theatre.  Teachers and trainers were forced to review, revise and in some cases, start all over again in order to ensure the material translated well virtually.  

2020 gave way to the rise of contactless processes.  From means of payment to electronic forms and checklists.  The construction industry was thrown into a cyclone of change.  Inspections, toolbox talks, daily pre-tasks, site specific safety plans, JHA’s ( Job Hazard Analyses) and even certifications and licenses were all required to be digitally submitted.  Piles of paper are no longer the norm in construction trailers.  What used to be plan tables are now screens.  Onsite meeting rooms and trailers are now outfitted with cameras and equipment for virtual meetings and screen sharing.     

Employee wellness stepped up into the forefront as well in 2020. Pre Screening at the jobsite gate began as a total annoyance, but eventually became seen as a useful interaction. Why not see how your employee is feeling before he starts his/her workday? – not just physically but mentally as well? Prior to 2020, employers and Safety Professionals in the construction industry were dealing with mental health issues and the growing opioid crisis. The pandemic surely exacerbated this situation causing an increase in anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. As winter layoffs begin, lockdowns continue, and social isolation is extended, these conditions will only intensify for many employees. COVID -19 has allowed employers and employees to know each other a bit more personally and frank discussions about depression or substance abuse are no longer taboo. Keeping a watchful eye on both the mental and the physical side of your employee’s health cannot help but result in increased Jobsite Safety and decreased employee absenteeism.

Keeping a watchful eye on both the mental and the physical side of your employee’s health cannot help but result in increased Jobsite Safety and decreased employee absenteeism.

With all of the changes that 2020 has brought, I believe one of the most significant has been the renewed connections with those that you love.  The family time that we all grew up with has seen a comeback.  Old hobbies have been revived.  For safety professionals that’s a good thing because one of the challenges we face is keeping the “why” fresh for employees.  What is the why?  It is the reason someone is working, the reason they do what they do.  For many it is family, for some it is their friends, the coworkers, a hobby; ultimately, it is the thing that keeps people going.

So, as we look ahead to 2021, try not just look back on negatives aspects of 2020, look back on the good changes that it brought.  Work to make those changes part of the everyday as we work our way through this pandemic.  Find new ways to innovate.  Know you are more resilient than you think.  Take this opportunity to grow your company, to grow as a parent, to grow as a person … don’t waste this chance to make a difference.  

about the author…

Tim Hunt, CHST is the Director of Environmental and Safety at W. L. French Excavating. Having graduated from Keene State’s Construction Safety Services; Tim has spent his career advocating for a safer work and site environment by engaging with his coworkers on a relatable, and conversational level to help them understand site safety.

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