As COVID-19 has spread throughout the world, the importance of pandemic and contingency planning has received renewed focus. When determining the best approach to limit the impact of COVID-19 on your organization, there are many considerations to keep in mind and the task can seem overwhelming. But leveraging environmental, health, safety and quality (EHSQ) management software can help make your organization’s pandemic and business continuity planning effort more streamlined and less daunting.
Let’s walk through some key areas where EHSQ software can help your organization strengthen its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Exposure Detection and Control
Some companies are able to let their employees work remotely but for many organizations that is simply not an option. How a company tracks and monitors their workforce’s health and safety can be critical to maintaining their operations during this pandemic.
It’s impossible to check with each employee before they come into work to make sure they’re healthy, and checking the health of each employee when they arrive at work is time-consuming and increases the risk of exposure for others.
EHSQ software provides automated solutions to this challenge. It allows companies to use advanced logic to auto-enroll workers into Similar Exposure Groups (SEGs) based on their potential risk of exposure. The software can be set up to send health check assessments directly to employees so they can complete their own questionnaires quickly and easily using their tablet or smartphone. The responses can then be automatically captured by the software and high-risk employees can be directed to “self-isolate” (stay home from work and avoid contact with others), identified for more frequent monitoring, or directed to receive testing. Employees can also be assigned training to help them further minimize their risk of infection.
The data linked to SEGs can be analyzed using EHSQ software to help identify patterns related to the spread and transmission rates which can then be used to further control the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace. This type of analysis is virtually impossible with a spreadsheet or paper-based system.
Respirator Fit Testing
Tracking which employees in your company are approved to wear respirators using a paper-based system can become overwhelming during times like these. This is particularly true if your company must find new vendors or new types of respirators as a result of shortages. An overwhelmed tracking system could lead to employees wearing the wrong respirator or one that does not fit them correctly. Both situations could lead to an increased risk of exposure to harmful materials including chemical and biological agents.
EHSQ software solutions can provide capabilities to track, schedule and record respirator fit-testing requirements. This allows companies to better protect their workers through easier mitigation of potential issues created by changes in products or vendors due to disruptions in the supply chain. For companies using spreadsheets, paper forms or even e-mails to track their respirator fit testing requirements, the added flexibility provided by EHSQ software can make all the difference.
Changes to a company’s list of standard equipment can trigger workflows integrated in the software that will schedule new fit-testing appointments and send notifications to the individuals, including employees and supervisors who could be impacted by the change.
Sanitization and Hygiene Processes
Since research is now suggesting the COVID-19 virus may survive on some surfaces for days, organizations need to review their existing cleaning processes. How frequently are surfaces disinfected and sanitized? The answer to that question can help limit the spread of the virus in your workplace.
EHSQ software can automate the tracking and auditing of reoccurring cleaning and maintenance tasks, allowing companies to easily monitor these processes. This automation can also enable companies to monitor if these processes have helped reduce the rates of infection.
An EHSQ software solution also offers analytic and reporting features to help increase accountability for the completion of tasks necessary, such as audits of PPE use, to help slow the spread of COVID-19. These features can also help identify opportunities for improvement within your existing processes. These corrections can help to further reduce exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The flexibility provided by a software solution to identify, analyze and take corrective actions is not something provided by a spreadsheet or e-mail-based system.
Employee Absence Management
The medical community and many governmental agencies are advising any individual who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who may have been exposed to the virus to “self-isolate” and avoid contact with other individuals until they are clear of the virus. This strict guidance can lead to an increased number of employees absent from work.
This makes absence tracking even more important. EHSQ software allows companies to track employee absences and their return-to-work timelines. This automated tracking can help associate employee absences to potential workplace exposure, something that could be necessary to help manage costs related to workers’ compensation claims.
EHSQ software can also help reduce the time companies spend managing work-related illnesses by auto-populating the forms required by federal or local government agencies. This helps to quickly ensure compliance with appropriate regulations—leaving more time to focus on managing the impact of COVID-19.
Beyond their own employees, companies also need to consider the role that contractors could play in spreading COVID-19 within the workplace. Contractors often possess a specialized set of skills, making them a critical part of your company. However, any individual that comes into your workplace, including contractors, can pose the same risk of spreading COVID-19 as your employees. While you can’t always prevent contractors from entering your work environment, there are steps you can take to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
This begins by evaluating the ways your company can incorporate practical health screenings in your contractor pre-qualification process. This will help your company make sure that individuals who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who may have been exposed to the virus are identified before they arrive and are barred from the workplace.
EHSQ software can help automate the contractor pre-qualification process by leveraging digital solutions to communicate the necessary data to assess the risk posed by contractors before they begin work on a project. Companies can use the software to assign questionnaires to contractors who can complete the questionnaire using their mobile devices, allowing companies to conduct health status checks and identify higher-risk contractors.
An EHSQ software solution can also allow contractors to use their mobile devices to “sign-in” when they arrive on the job. Companies can then track and validate the individuals on-site and act quickly if an individual isn’t on a list of cleared workers. For companies using paper-based systems to track this information, those actions may be very difficult or even impossible.
Travel is an essential part of business and as business travel begins again after the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping your employees safe will be a necessity. Automatically tracking, assessing and approving your employees’ travel using EHSQ software can help decrease the chance of someone being placed in harm’s way.
An automated solution can also help share travel advisories and restrictions, so your employees always have the latest information to keep them safe. EHSQ software can also automatically tie your travel clearance process to your company’s immunization program, helping ensure that your employees have the appropriate vaccinations before they receive permission to travel. An automated, software solution can run these checks well in advance of any travel to prevent last-minute issues.
It could be quite a while before the COVID-19 pandemic is over and nobody knows when governments and medical professions will finally be able to successfully slow the spread of the virus. And a vaccine for COVID-19 could be at least 12-18 months away according to the World Health Organization.
While companies should be taking steps now to manage the impacts of COVID-19 on their employees and their operations, it’s also important to think beyond the immediate pandemic and consider a company’s long-term needs and future risks. Other virus outbreaks have spread throughout the world in the past and any future outbreak could present similar risks as COVID-19. An EHSQ software solution can help companies handle not only the current pandemic but also future virus outbreaks.
Sean Baldry is a product marketing manager with Cority, a provider of EHSQ software, where he is responsible for the company’s Health and Safety solutions. He has over 15 years of experience working in occupational health and safety in the construction, mining and manufacturing industries, and is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP).