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No Employee Left Behind

Aug. 3, 2021
Protecting your workers from psychological harm is as important as keeping them safe from physical danger.

If one of your employees was in physical danger, would you do everything you could to keep them out of harm’s way? That’s a no-brainer: Any safety leader—in fact, any person of conscience whatsoever—would certainly answer “yes” to that question. One thing we’ve all learned from our shared COVID experiences, however, is that people face many dangers that aren’t immediately obvious to an observer and can’t be prevented simply by donning the appropriate protective gear.

One of the topics du jour in the mainstream media is what’s being called The Great Resignation. Employees are deciding—for various reasons and in very large numbers—to leave their jobs in favor of other occupations or pursuits. Sometimes, it’s because they liked being able to work from home, and if their companies are now insisting that they come back to the office or facility, some employees are opting to find more flexible employment opportunities. Sometimes, it’s because the employees just don’t feel comfortable being around a lot of other people, especially with the delta variant causing COVID numbers to spike again. And sometimes, it’s because the employees feel threatened every time they come to work—not by a virus, but by a stressful situation that might lead them to decide enough is enough.

Over the past year, we’ve seen the pandemic redefine exactly what a “workplace” looks like, to the point that keeping employees safe isn’t limited to just while they’re on-site. It means keeping them safe wherever they are. This is hardly a new concept, as wellness programs and NIOSH’s Total Worker Health initiative have been promoted throughout safety circles for years, but the pandemic has exposed how vulnerable employees are in situations that threaten them not only physically but emotionally as well. Anxiety, depression, alcoholism, suicidal ideation, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, racism, bullying, workplace violence, drug abuse—the list of occupational hazards keeps getting longer, and safety leaders are often in the best position to help employees deal with these issues.

We’ve made a commitment here at EHS Today to publish articles sharing best practices about how safety professionals are protecting their employees from psychological as well as physical threats. Lately, though, we’ve gotten some negative feedback from some readers who apparently view every topic with an “us vs. them” mentality. Recently, for instance, we’ve published articles on various diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts companies have launched to better protect and support their employees. Those articles didn’t sit too well with a small (but very passionate) group of readers who have been quite insistent that a safety leader is only responsible for an employee’s physical safety, period, and that protecting workers from emotional harm has nothing to do with occupational safety. It’s pretty easy to understand why somebody working for a boss with an attitude like that would look for another job.

Fortunately, that attitude is most definitely not shared by the safety profession’s most prominent proponents. For instance, the major trade associations in the safety field all have dedicated initiatives and programs addressing diversity, including:

  • American Industrial Hygienist Association’s Minority Special Interest Group,
  • American Society of Safety Professionals’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, and
  • National Safety Council’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

What’s more, the Biden Administration’s Executive Orders earlier this year on gender equity and racial equity are clear indications that DEI efforts are not just flavor-of-the-month projects. Companies are going to be held to a much higher standard for worker safety than ever before.

“The safety profession has to be more inclusive so we can have a variety of perspectives and input, leading to a safer workplace,” Bradley D. Giles, the new president of ASSP, told EHS Today’s Adrienne Selko. “Safety people are here to take care of every employee, and we need to transcend any biases.” 

People have choices, and if they don’t feel safe at your company for any reason, they’re going to leave. One of the biggest challenges safety leaders face is finding, training and retaining talent. Workers are already very choosy about what kind of organizations they want to work for. The best defense your company can have against a wave of resignations is a safety culture that emphasizes your willingness to protect your employees from any and all dangers that might be in their way.

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