Covid-19 and Healthy Work

Safety workplace hardhat

COVID-19 has impacted the health of our workplaces, from human, operational, and economic perspectives.

Two weeks ago BC went from 300% to just 30% in week-to-week new COVID-19 cases, and the week of April 13th showed an increase of 18% new cases. These are significant decreases as they show continual improvement, and indicate B.C. is flattening the curve, and reducing further risk to these perspectives. I’ll update my blogpost this week with the new numbers.

Even with these reductions in new cases we still run the risk of exponentially increasing new cases if we stop using the measures we are all applying (hand washing, social distancing, and isolation) which can lead to thousands of new cases and impact our health care facilities.

Consider we just had a sunny Easter long weekend.  With some nice weather, and the recent stretches of isolation people might have been tempted to shortcut some of these measures and get out of the house.  

We won’t know for another week or two, but the weekend could have been detrimental to our efforts to flatten the curve and could erase any gains made in the last few weeks.

Quicker Recovery

If we can stick it out another few weeks there is potential for an even more significant reduction on the long term impact the pandemic will have. There is talk that B.C. may see some restrictions eased, if we continue our efforts.

A few more weeks of low numbers in new cases will have an incredible impact on our health, medical infrastructure, medical professionals, key services, communities and the economy.

This may allow us to consider slowly reintegrating some areas back into some degree of normal.

Gradual reintegration of social and economic activity might mean the economic rebound is slow also, but keeping cases down while doing so may result in a quicker and more sustainable recovery of the economy.

For now, we need many more weeks of continually decreasing new cases to start to build confidence in the possibility of resuming any degree of “normal” economic and social activities.

Managing Safety

As businesses, and organizations focus on maintaining some degree of operations at the moment, or consider what is needed should they be able to start operating again in a few months, there are some considerations from a health and safety perspective that should be included in the return to work plan:

  • Where and how can workers spread the virus?
  • What level of risk exists, and to who?
  • Do we have controls that effectively reduce risk?
  • Consider an exposure control plan if there is high risk of exposure
  • Have they communicated the hazards and controls?
  • Are they monitoring the hazards and controls?
  • Do staff have means to report any concerns?
  • Do staff and managers understand the right to refuse unsafe work?

Safety committees should be getting awareness and training on how to manage these issues at work.  The BC Municipal Safety Association and WorkSafe BC  have a number of resources workplaces can review.

Future Proofing

Our businesses and communities may be a long way from returning to normal, but now is the time to consider what changes may be required if and when businesses and organizations are able to return to some degree of operations. 


  • What lessons have been learned?  
  • What areas of the business were strengths and weaknesses during this?
  • What is the plan to reintegrate back into some degree of operational capacity?
  • If your business is going to be limited, or may not recuperate, what are the contingency plans?

The Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce has a number of resources for business in the Nanaimo Stay Strong section of it’s website.

Continuing to stay the course, assess our workplaces, review what we need to do now, and in the future can all contribute to maintaining a degree of health in our workplaces.  Right now, a healthy workplace should be everyone’s priority, from all perspectives.

Wellness In Your Workplace

What are the telltale signs you work in a healthy, thriving work environment?  

The team hits target and gets bonuses? The company is generating good revenue and profits?  You’re bringing on a good quantity and quality of new clients? Your clients are happy? What about your employees, are they healthy and safe?

An ongoing challenge in the world of health and safety, is how do you know you’re doing it well?  If you’re injuries are low, is that because you’re in a low risk environment? Is it because you’re employees are following the right processes and procedures?  Are you just lucky? Perhaps a blend of all three?

The only real way to measure if your employees are working in a healthy and safe environment is to consider what that is, and measure it.  Traditional health and safety often relied on lagging indicators, things like injuries, and damage. Proactive safety programs often consider more leading indicators such as positive inspection results, near misses reported (can also be lagging), hours of training, hazards identified and corrected etc.  So if you’ve got all of those in check, you must be doing safety right, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  You’re certainly identifying key aspects of safety, such as monitoring, and responding to findings, but what about the less subtle aspects?  What about employee wellness? Have you considered aspects such as:

  • Employee work loads and stress levels?
  • Employee engagement?
  • Employees at work, but not focused, not effective, or in other words presenteeism?
  • Time pressures for targets and deadlines?
  • Length and time of hours worked and risk of fatigue?
  • Bullying, harassment, or even social pressures?
  • Employee burnout and turnover?
  • Employee nutrition and dietary habits at work?

The above are just some aspects of employee wellness, which can be seen as a broader term that encompasses the engagement, and involvement of employees and both their in work environments, and out of work environments.  The days where these environments were seen as separate, or less connected are behind us.

It is difficult for many roles, and individuals to simply stop work at the end of the shift, or simply leave personal life at the door before entering work.  The two overlap, and the stresses, challenges, and pressures of these environments can work synergistically to influence employee wellness in a healthy or harmful context.  They can balance each other, and they can work to cause health or harm depending on how they are managed.

Health and Safety isn’t the same concept it was 60 years ago when my father started his career, and neither is the world we live in. Employers and employees can work together to identify key sources of harm in the workplace, that may be typical health and safety related harm, or perhaps more subtle workplace harm such as work related stress, health habits, or uncertainty.  These sources of harm can be reviewed, ideally while engaging the workers, and addressed to reduce the potential for exposure of workers to the harm, and the process doesn’t have to be time consuming, or expensive.

Some solutions may seem to be more people focused, rather than directly related to health and safety, but can lead to a sense of engagement, trust, and community in the workplace, and improve relationships, and culture.  Wellness, health, safety, they are all about people after all. Some examples of a range of solutions that can be considered are:

  • Utilization of a health, safety, or wellness committee to focus on trends and priorities
  • Considering how existing benefits can be complimented with greater wellness benefits
  • Flexi-time for workers to manage work and personal life priorities
  • Reviewing nutritional habits within the workplace
  • Working remotely on occasion particularly with infectious colds or flus
  • Exercise breaks for a walk or short run to get a break from sitting at a desk
  • Enforcing regular breaks throughout the day
  • Review workload and project management needs to consider sustainability
  • Collaborative lean thinking type problem solving exercises between workers and management
  • Employee career development and succession planning to provide structure, stability, guidance

These are just some of the less obvious, but related examples of adjustments in the work environment that help impact wellness in the workplace.  They can contribute towards addressing some of the challenges preventing organizations from truly creating a healthy, thriving work environment.