Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset: Employee Safety During COVID-19
Wednesdays with Woodward Webinar
October 7, 2020
Lorraine Martin, President and CEO of the National Safety Council (NSC), and Allen McCalister, Director of Workers Compensation for Travelers Risk Control, joined the Wednesdays with Woodward series to discuss a topic on the minds of many employers – how to protect their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. McCalister and Martin emphasized the importance of strong corporate leadership; good communication; and the ability to formulate, reevaluate and adapt protocols for on-site work.
According to McCalister, leadership is more important now than ever before. He explained that leaders should:
- Communicate a clear plan of action in response to the pandemic.
- Help ensure that employees feel well prepared and safe while doing their jobs.
- Hold front-line management responsible for keeping employees informed.
- Demonstrate that the organization cares about its employees’ well-being.
- Promote a culture of safety; position their workplace as a safe space and their company as a trusted resource.
Building Safety Engagement
McCalister described the importance of building safety engagement, citing a Gallup survey showing that companies with high employee engagement enjoy better productivity and fewer safety incidents. He shared two strategies that employers can use to help cultivate a workplace culture of safety, respect and belonging.
- Demonstrate that they care: Express concern; participate in safety meetings and trainings; make health and safety the first talking points of all meetings; listen carefully; be proactive; establish and model COVID-19 practices; and keep promises.
- Encourage health and safety involvement: Involve employees; create project teams for cleaning or disinfecting; assign employees to check hand-washing/hand sanitizer stations; provide positive reinforcement; encourage employees to make health and safety suggestions and hold peers accountable; communicate COVID-19 health and safety policies; and recognize employees/crews for following the guidelines.
The National Safety Council’s SAFER Initiative: A Road Map Back to Business as Usual
According to a National Safety Council survey, 2 out of 3 Americans feel somewhat uncomfortable about returning to the workplace. But the good news, Martin explained, is that the same survey found that 69% of Americans trust their employers to make good decisions regarding when to reopen and what safeguards are needed. Martin emphasized the importance of employer involvement during this time.
To help guide employers through the process of bringing their workers back into the workplace or keeping them there safely, the NSC launched SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns. SAFER is a road map for employers, based on learnings from over 100 organizations including government agencies, nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies, coming together under the guiding principle that “safety is not proprietary.” The SAFER initiative provides over 200 recommendations and both general and sector-specific reopening playbooks, which align worker safety with business objectives.
The SAFER framework uses six components (below) and four operation types: office, closed industrial, open industrial and public.
- mental and emotional
- employment, legal and HR
- external factors
The initiative’s free Organizational Vulnerability Assessment online tool assigns a business a four-step organizational risk score, and then provides recommendations and strategies for implementing additional safeguards for reopening, based on that score.
Ongoing Communication with Employees
During these uncertain times, both Martin and McCalister noted the importance of communication with employees. Some employees may not be comfortable returning to the workplace and may need flexibility. Martin encouraged employers to use employee surveys to gather feedback, noting that employers need to ask questions, take actions based on that feedback and share those actions with employees. She referred employers to the SAFER initiative for sample surveys tailored to the current pandemic. Martin further stated that employers should consider the mental health of their employees. “There’s a lot of stigma around this issue and a lot of concern about actually talking about it,” Martin explained. “And so it is important to ask those simple questions, such as ‘How are you today?’”
 Gallup ®, Inc. “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes 2016 Q12 ® Meta-Analysis: Ninth Edition.” Apr. 2016: 2.
Presented by the Travelers Institute, the National Safety Council, the Campbell Institute, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and Accion.
Lorraine Martin, President and CEO, National Safety Council
Allen McCalister, Director of Workers Compensation Cost Containment, Risk Control, Travelers
Joan Woodward, President, Travelers Institute; Executive Vice President, Public Policy; Travelers