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#55: How we can return to work the right way - COVID-19 Special

April 27, 2020 | 24 minutes 47 seconds

In this special COVID-19 episode, podcast series host Jill James speaks with Lorraine Martin, President & CEO of the National Safety Council. This is Lorraine’s 2nd time on the podcast, having joined us for a live recording at the 2019’s National Safety Congress and Expo in San Diego. The National Safety Council is the nation’s leading safety advocate; last week NSC announced an effort to help employers create safe workplaces in a post Coronavirus world. The effort is called SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns. Jill & Lorraine discuss the effort. This truly is an essential podcast episode!

Links and Show Notes

Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER): https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/safe-actions-for-employee-returns-safer

Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. This is a special edition of the podcast recorded April 24th, 2020. My name is Jill James, Vivid's, chief safety officer. And today, I'm joined by Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. This is Lorraine's second time on the podcast, having joined us on episode 37 for a live recording at the 2019's National Safety Congress and Expo in San Diego.

The National Safety Council is the nation's leading safety advocate and, earlier this week, the NSC announced an effort to help employers create safe workplaces in a post coronavirus world. The effort is called SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns.

Lorraine, welcome back to the show.

Lorraine:

Jill, thank you for having me.

Jill:

So Lorraine what is SAFER other than what the acronym I just talked about, what does it mean?

Lorraine:

Yeah, thank you. SAFER really is an initiative that was begun by the National Safety Council, but has now been joined by a variety of organizations across our nation, really to help employers understand what's going to be most important now and probably for months and maybe even years to come to ensure that their workplaces are safe for their employees, safe for their customers, and that they can resume the operations they need so that America can come back up and get its engine running. So, it really is about industry helping industry, government coming together, ensuring that we have a central location for the best practices, practices perhaps that have actually been tested out perhaps around the globe, since some of these companies are global and they've come up and been able to put some of these things through trial and error in other locations and really refine them. And enable us to create what, we're calling, generic playbooks, various different industry sectors to enable them to have the best possible understanding, and practices of how they're going to help their employees navigate, and their workplace be safe.

Jill:

Yeah. And you had mentioned that you have some partners that have been part of this. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like what kind of companies are making up this partnership? Or are you calling it a task force? Or how does that work?

Lorraine:

It's a task force, yes. So we, certainly, have gotten lots of calls, and offers from some of the largest Fortune 500 household names, which is amazing. They have come knocking at the door and said, "We have practices we do not consider, in this case, safety to be proprietary. This is something that we want to share and make sure that other companies, especially small and mid-size that are in the same kind of businesses as we are, that they have the benefit of our learning." And this can be all the way from McDonald's to Uber to BNSF to folks like Walgreens who really, again, have global operations, and they've really been in the forefront of understanding how to navigate some of this new health situation, and public health related issues that we now find in our workplace.

But in addition to the household names and large companies, we also are partnering with the CDC and NIOSH as part of the taskforce, and the US Chamber of Commerce, which gives us then that great reach to the voice of industry here in the United States.

Jill:

Yeah. Wonderful. So, you mentioned playbooks and you mentioned playbooks by industry. And I'm sure that many of our listeners, safety and health professionals around the United States, their ears just perked up about that. So, can you talk a little bit about what's the timeline for these playbooks, and are there any other deliverables as well that you're working on?

Lorraine:

Yeah, thank you. And we just formed the task force. We put out the press release, I think, two days ago, so thanks for having us on so quickly, mostly so that we can see if there are others that would like to contribute. And we have gotten, literally, dozens of employees, practices and playbooks provided to us, so that we can start to cull them into more generic practices, and very specifically address generally what should workplaces be doing now and in the future. And then, what are some of the sector unique things that you need for construction, or you need in transportation for drivers, and handling of packaging? And so, there will be some unique guidelines for each of the sectors.

We're going to begin to start having material out on the nsc.org/safer beginning next week. So, that's the final week of April. And then, all the way through May there'll be a schedule for releasing some more of the materials, and more of the guidelines. In addition to addressing the standard workplace policies and procedures we need we'll also have materials on things like mental health in the workplace, as a result of this traumatic event that not only our employees, but our companies and their leadership have all gone through. Some things having to do with HR policy and even, where we can, how to look at things like workers' comp. So, all of these things that every company will be wrestling with, we would like to try to lessen the burden on all of us looking at and exploring the same topics, and provide a place where you can have some templates and some guidelines of whatever you need to do uniquely for your environment and for your risk you, at least, have some place to start.

Jill:

Yeah, right. So, that everyone isn't burdened with trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, in a time where really we are inventing it, but we're coming together as a nation of employers to help one another.

So Lorraine, it sounds like the playbooks that you're putting together, you said, you'll start releasing some of them next week, but you're also continuing to look for more to come your way from specific industry sectors, is that correct? If someone wants to offer up their playbook.

Lorraine:

Absolutely. We would welcome that with open arms and you can come to us at nsc.org and just let us know on that page. You can also see if you'd like to play either to contribute and, of course, to use some of the resources and, as we said, that'll get populated more richly over the next month or so.

Jill:

Right. And so, the culling, if you will, of the playbooks and putting them together is that being done by this task force you put together in combination with the thinkers at NSC? Or how does that piece working?

Lorraine:

You got it.

Jill:

Okay.

Lorraine:

So, we've started some of that, and many of the task force members have already offered some of their safety experts to be not only reviewers, but collaborators on creating the material. It's just been absolutely amazing. Not only how readily folks offered up their material, but to say, "Here, here's my person, he helped build our policy, or she was on the forefront of implementing our policy. Here's their names, let us know how we can help." It's amazing.

Jill:

Fabulous. Yeah, well you were right, you said earlier that safety isn't proprietary, and it never has been. Our professional practice, that's always been one thing that's true about all of us, we're all so willing to share with one another. And boy, it's certainly being exemplified right now.

Lorraine:

It is.

Jill:

Yeah. So Lorraine, there are state and national discussions about restarting the economy. Do you think those discussions are focused on the right things right now? Or what's the conversation that NSC is having around that?

Lorraine:

Yeah, no, that's a great question. And every state and every local government has got to do what's right for their people, right for what's going on in their locations, since this is pandemic it's not constant across all locations, or even all industries. So, it's really important that those decisions and those discussions be done locally, and with the relevance of what is happening for that area. But that makes it challenging for companies to some degree because many of them are in multiple locations [inaudible] US and, as I said before, global. So, usually we like things to be done uniformly when we think of public health or even safety recommendations. And this is one where we really do have to take it at the right speed and time for what's going on in a given area.

At the same time, I would say, no matter where a location is, or where a local government has chosen to put in policies or restrictions, now is the time for us all to be talking about what are the right ways for us to come back up safely, or to enable our current workforce that is working in critical infrastructure to work safely as we move forward. So, just as you always want to be prepared for a crisis ahead of time you hope it never happens, but you've got all your playbooks and how you'd handle it, we need to right now ensure we've got our ways of handling coming back to work full force, bringing up some of the industries that have had to shut down and shelter to ensure we do that safely. And now is the time regardless of local restrictions and the differentiation of that across our nation being ready is the responsibility for us all.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly. And it sounds like many of these organizations, the critical infrastructure who have continued to work throughout this could also benefit from the playbooks that are being put together because everyone has been trying to decide, somewhat figure out on the fly how to implement the safety hierarchy, if you will. And trying to figure out what do we do? And sometimes those pivots have been needing to have develop daily if not hourly, depending on what we-

Lorraine:

Exactly.

Jill:

Yeah, depending on what we continue to learn. And so, these playbooks will be very valuable assets for those companies as well.

Lorraine:

Absolutely. And we learn something every day, not only about what is safe in this public health dynamic, but also what the recommendations are from the scientists and even how the disease itself progresses, so that there's nothing standing still here. And so, safety recommendations and protocols have to move with that.

We did a survey pretty early on of all of our member companies and we have this rich benefit of having 16,000 members that we can ask whatever we might need to know about something and it's going to be representative really across US industry. And we asked them all how many of them still had employees that were working in their traditional workspace they considered critical infrastructure? It was 32% of the members had people still going to work. So a lot of us, like you and me who are sitting in our homes, we can get that lost that many companies have had to weather through this and figure it out inch by inch.

Absolutely these playbooks are going to be a broader set of learning, practices they may not have thought about, things that we've learned incrementally. And one of the things that I know all of us are going to be interested in is how we can use some of the testing capabilities that eventually, hopefully, will be much more broadly available, so that the workplace can also incorporate that into how we come back up and run, how we consider who can come into the workplace, who should come into the workplace. This new understanding that a lot of the symptoms are not necessarily the only way for us to understand, including temperature, that someone might be infectious, or sick is something, really, that's a learning. That's something we haven't known the whole time, and puts the testing protocols, and testing kits, and testing resources, so much more at the front of industry being able to come back up safely.

So, we just recently, separate from the safer initiative with about 50 different organizations, put a note into the federal government's task force, under Vice President Pence, that said, "As testing materials are available, after we deal with the highest priority for them need to consider how workplaces are going to have them made available to them as we bring the workplaces back online.

Jill:

Right. And I think we'll see that differentiate, like you had mentioned before, state by state, locality by locality as well. My home state, which is Minnesota our governor did a call, which he's calling the Minnesota Moonshot, for the healthcare industries in my state, the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, and other health partners to develop testing protocols to test 40,000 people, I believe it is, a week, which is which will likely lead the nation. And so, we have a lot to learn from that as well, and how that's going to trickle into employment settings too. As well as contact tracing. I think that'll be something that'll be coming on the forefront for all of us as well. And ways that NSC can help lead with that, as well as lots of other organizations. What will that look like for employers?

Lorraine:

Absolutely. And we have seen industry lead in all kinds of things for our nation and employers have led for safety, safety technologies, safety protocols, just standard safety, and made such huge, huge strides. I am certain industry will do that here too, and will be on the forefront of helping us bring the nation back online. But the tools like testing or tracking that are going to be really important for us to know how do we get them into the hands of employers who will do the right thing and make sure that we do this safely, but there are some things we're going to have to collaborate on.

Jill:

Right. How do you expect or what are you hearing from your stakeholders about expected timing and other protocols for reopening businesses across the country?

Lorraine:

Yeah, that's the million dollar question. When is it safe and how are we going to do this? And, certainly, if you turn on the news you're going to hear that within 10 minutes of the program. Usually, we do like things to be uniform, and we're all doing the same things, and we know what the right answer is for opening up, or going into operation. This really is going to have to be done appropriate to the location, appropriate to the disease migration. And over time, literally, and how it happens month over month over month. And then, very specifically, for the risk profile and the operation of the employer. [inaudible] industries where asking for two human beings to be six feet apart is very challenging. I was talking to construction firm that's putting up dry wall. You can't put it up by yourself, and construction is considered to go forward and they've had to figure out how do you enable those two employees to almost be elbow to elbow.

But there are other situations where the timing and the protocols will be much more apparent for us. Office environments, well, it will be challenging. [inaudible] and turnstiles, and hallways, all of those things will be challenging. But there'll be a way to design the ability for employees to come into work, if that's necessary, safely. It may be staggered work weeks. It may mean shifts that are smaller in size and different work shift hours. So, it's all going to be able to be designed, but it's going to take some effort. We want to make sure that we do it safely and employees feel comfortable. But some of those environments will be a little bit easier to accommodate. So, when and how has to be taken both locally and by industry, as I said before. But now is the time to make sure we know what our tools are that we have in our toolbox to do it safely within those environments.

Jill:

Yeah, and when the time is right. And speaking about when the time is right, do you think it is the time to be talking about reopening non-essential businesses?

Lorraine:

That's really not my call as the National Council. But I will say that I do think every employer needs to look at the risk profiles, and we'll be providing some guidelines for thinking about where you are on that risk profile regarding your operation and the information that you have and making that decision on behalf of your business and employees. As I said before, the right thing to do though is to make sure when people need to make that decision, or feel comfortable making the decision that we've given them all the safety protocols and practices that would be warranted at that time.

Jill:

Right. Well, I love to hear that you're working on a risk profile, I think that will be another really great tool for employers as they're trying to decide their timing, and when is it right for them in their state, their locality as well.

Lorraine:

Yeah, you saw that the national government did sort of this phase one, phase two, phase three. And that's important because you always want to know where you are, and how do you think about what you can de-risk to go forward, and what those actions. That plan didn't have a lot on, really, workplace risk profiles, and going on that same kind of journey. And so, we'll be looking to do something that goes in parallel with that.

Jill:

Yeah, makes sense. I've been thinking a lot recently about, back to what I learned when I was working on my graduate degree in safety. And one of my professors, shout out to Harv Bursky who taught me about the OSHA regulations, when we were first introduced to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as a student one of the things that we were meant to memorize was this part of the OSHA Act that says that the work is to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions, and to preserve our human resources. And I really see that the work that the NSC is doing right now is really to meet that call, and to meet that need of the act from way back then.

Lorraine:

And you still could, could recite it there, I see it stuck.

Jill:

It did stuck. It's like if you were ever a girl scout or someone who was a boy scout, you had your thing, the pledge that you would say. And that one stuck in my head for safety.

Lorraine:

And very apropos because while it was written several decades ago the world changes and clearly the world changed under our feet in just the last couple of months. But that challenge is still the same, to keep everyone safe and to keep humanity in a whole state, so we can live our fullest lives. And having employment and ensuring that we do that in a safe way, and keep our [inaudible 00:19:40], and our livelihoods running is what this is all about. And that safety challenge has just been exacerbated here by a public health challenge that we have to find a way to partner and navigate. And so, employers and employees can be safe.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly. Lorraine, is there anything else you'd like to add about SAFER and its plans? And for our listeners, we'll be putting in the show notes, links to the NSC, specifically to the page that you're talking about, Lorraine, but what else would you like to add?

Lorraine:

Yeah, thank you. Today, you'll find a description and you'll find the folks that have signed on to contribute not only materials, but also their intellectual support to make sure we get the right kind of playbooks out to everybody. If you're interested in sharing, great, joining the task force just let us know. That would be wonderful. And then, stay tuned over the next six weeks or so as stuff starts to be provided out. And please share it. We do know that a lot of companies are strapped for resources right now, if they've been on hold, they don't have cash. And the thing we don't want them to needlessly spend resources on is duplicating playbooks and resources to help them come up safely. We want them to be able to come to this resource, especially small and mid-sized companies, to be able to get the benefit of what some of the larger, more global companies have already invested in and have graciously said, "Please here, use." So, reach out to others that you can recommend to come to the resources as we make them available.

And then just know that many times our employers have been asked to step up to a challenge, whether it's in a given area with a hurricane, or fires, or other kinds of issues that we've all wrestled with throughout our lives. And this'll be the same. Employers will rise to the challenge, but we will need to do it together. And it's a fairly formidable new state for us to be thinking about navigating.

I was talking to someone just the other day and said, "PPE is a term that only us safety geeks and people who are in high risk manufacturing, and constructing environments. And all of a sudden the entire globe knows what PPE is." Could feel good about that but, at the same time ...

Jill:

Oh, it's true, it's absolutely true. Safety and health professionals have always known you could only say PPE with your own kind. And, now, we can say it without having to explain what that means.

Lorraine:

Exactly. [crosstalk 00:00:22:14].

Jill:

Yeah.

Lorraine:

It means, though, that there's a heightened sensitivity, and apprehension, and anxiety, all of us, to be safe. And we always have that when we are worried about our steel toed shoes, and made sure our toes were fine. And, now, it's making sure that our health and our well-being can be sound as we do other jobs and enable services to be provided, and enable the engine that is this amazing country, and this globe to come online. And making sure that everybody's safe as we do that is paramount. And, truthfully, I'll end by saying, how we address this, as a nation, of how workplaces can come back online safely will, in large part, drive how we get through the pandemic because we have to get to the other side of our economy coming back, and safe employment is at the core of that.

Jill:

Yeah, preserving our human resources, absolutely. Lorraine, thank you so much. Really appreciate the work of the NSC and your leadership in this endeavor. And we will definitely be spreading the word, and our listeners of the podcast, I'm sure, will be spreading the word, but also wanting to check out those playbooks, and consume them. And, probably, some will be offering their voices to help as well.

Lorraine:

Thank you Jill, and thank you for sharing the word. We're all in this together.

Jill:

We, certainly, are.

And thank you for spending your time listening today and, more importantly, thank you for your contribution, making sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day.

If you'd like to join the conversation about this episode, or any of our previous episode follow our Facebook page and join the Accidental Safety Pro Community group. If you aren't subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple podcast app, or any other podcast player you'd like. You can also find all the episodes at vividlearningsystems.com/podcast. And if you could leave us a rating and review us on iTunes, it would really help us connect the show with more and more safety and health professionals like Lorraine and I. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's yourself, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. Until next time, thanks for listening.