Strategies for Successfully Navigating Risk in the New Normal

Now is the time to reexamine your risk management programs to ensure they’re up to date, compliant and prepared for upcoming regulatory deadlines.

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The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has created unprecedented business and regulatory challenges, with massive changes to how we all live and work. The rapid onset of the virus forced many companies to act quickly and decisively to implement new processes focused on keeping workers safe and reducing its spread.

Now, as businesses learn how to operate in the “New Normal,” they’re faced with navigating new safety challenges in addition to continuing to manage and mitigate existing risks. During periods of disruption, new risks can appear quickly and existing risks can materialize into real problems as control structures are no longer operating optimally. As an employer, you have an obligation to protect your people from harm; while COVID-19 put health and safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the crisis also created significant gaps in everyday environmental, health and safety (EHS) program management.

Now is the time to reexamine your risk management programs to ensure they’re up to date, compliant and prepared for upcoming regulatory deadlines. Here’s some important aspects of your programs to review.

Identify new risks and verify existing risks are under control

How can companies stay in front of new and existing workplace risks? While no one has escaped the impacts of COVID-19, companies can better manage the long-term and multi-dimensional shocks the pandemic has caused through a collaborative and open context where all individuals involved draw from the strengths of the shared experience, a clear understanding of expectations and the flexibility to devise new ways of solving problems.

The industry has seen some encouraging results in situations where employers have taken the time to ensure that safety processes and procedures are in place to mitigate the impacts of evolving resourcing challenges. For jobs affected by staffing levels or throughput targets, the relevant Job Safety Analyses (JSAs) should be reviewed in a series of collaborative workshops to ensure they cover how, for instance, job steps previously requiring multiple personnel could be performed safely when performed by one, or production goals based on certain team levels are scaled down when confronted with reduced personnel availability. By including expectations around quality, productivity, and of course, safety into the JSA, you make those jobs more realistic, more understandable and scalable; build confidence in the work teams involved; make the processes more shock-proof for the future; and have the beneficial effect of reinforcing team cohesion at a time of greatest stress and instability.

Successful JSAs break the job down into tasks and identify all actions necessary to complete the job. This includes frequently missed steps like setup and cleanup. It’s important to consider and identify the hazards associated with each task, including factors like pinch points, chemical use/exposure, cut/laceration risks, ergonomic strains and other categories of risks, and then identify, where possible, ways of modifying the task, tools or process to eliminate those hazards or defining controls that prevent of mitigate each of the hazards.

JSAs are completed most effectively with the direct involvement of the employee—or employees—who do the job, by actively watching the performance of it and taking notes of all the places where risks of injury may exist. Don’t just codify this as standard practice, but instead think about how to document it. JSAs that fail often do so because there wasn’t enough input from the actual operators, and therefore it did not correctly identify all steps in the job or the hazards. Lack of participation by the operators can also create a widespread view among employees that the JSAs lack validity, which hampers workforce participation in EHS.

It’s vital to ensure that the resulting JSAs are easy and clear to read and understand. If it’s not clear what hazards or controls correspond to specific tasks, then the JSA fails its primary duty and may not adequately prepare employees to understand and avoid risks. When it comes to communicating hazards, it’s important to remove as much ambiguity as possible.

Finally, implement a process of planned and ad-hoc observations that review how the JSAs are used by employees as they perform the jobs. This is an opportunity to both optimize the documentation or correct shortcuts being taken. Closing the loop in this way shows that the JSA is a valued part of the safety management system, and while learnings can and should be included, adherence to the safe working is “how it’s done around here.”

Implement better risk analysis tools

Employers have a responsibility to anticipate and manage all potential workplace EHS risks ensuring compliance, protecting workers and promoting the health of the organization. Yet, many struggle with managing these workplace risks, whether it’s accurately assessing them, controlling them or getting the entire workplace involved in the process. Add to that the complex challenges surrounding COVID-19 and those struggles increase exponentially.

Those looking for additional tools to manage risk often find what they need with bowtie analysis, a collaborative risk scenario evaluation method that enables users to visually map risks and illustrate the pathways between their causes and potential impacts. In addition to mapping risks, bowtie analysis allows you to assign controls to individual causal or consequential pathways and apply key risk indicators (KRIs) to help track the performance of risk controls. People remember pictures and understand flows or cause and effect so as you explore more complex scenarios in a collaborative setting, having a tool that visualizes all elements instead of spreadsheet helps in cementing the shared knowledge. This builds a collective understanding that helps users better organize and prioritize risks and facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of the risks facing your business and how to control and manage them.

The most significant benefit of bowtie analysis is that it helps you better develop and assign more targeted prevention and mitigation controls. And, because you can share bowtie analyses across sites, it eliminates variability by aligning your risk management from the top down, with all locations having a more standardized way of identifying and managing risks. It’s an easier way to do risk and assurance right.

Utilize technology for additional help

There’s never been a better time to implement EHS software to help with workplace risk management. While today’s advanced systems have been around well before the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, more companies now recognize the immense value a comprehensive cloud software solution offers for achieving EHS and operational excellence. Practically every employer across nearly every industry has been forced to make tough decisions to balance their employees’ safety with the survival of their businesses. Yet those with comprehensive EHS software have adapted far better and faster because of the shared understanding resulting from collaborative assessment processes great tools help realize.

Leading EHS cloud software providers offer tools to verify that your risks are under control. Confidence comes from knowing your people and processes are aligned and in good health. A comprehensive solution makes it easier to develop JSAs and bowtie analyses that evaluate the full range of jobs and job tasks in your workplace and assess each job task for specific risks such as COVID-19 exposure. Software also ensures workers have fast and easy access to all your analyses and can quickly update them as job tasks change or new risks are identified. Best of all, you get the visibility and reporting tools you need to document performance and drive continuous improvement.

Recognize things aren’t going to change anytime soon

Companies need to realize that pandemics like COVID-19 are going to be regular enough for the foreseeable future and learn now to operate in this “New Normal.” Take steps now to set up your safety management systems to monitor and manage emerging risks as a normal part of business-as-usual, and if appropriate, invest in flexible, configurable EHS software that will evolve with your needs. You’ll ensure your business is in a better position to deal with the unexpected—not just with this current crisis, but also more prepared for the next one.