Workers are vulnerable right now - how can you protect them?

Aug 25, 2020

Workers are vulnerable right now - how can you protect them?As an employer, you probably have people coming back to work or new employees arriving at jobs in the COVID-19 "new normal" environment. It's a different world out there and in here - and there are some important steps you can take to meet the challenges.

The term "vulnerable workers" has commonly referred to new and young workers, temporary workers, older workers, pregnant workers, and people for whom English is a second language. These workers are considered vulnerable because their age, literacy level, job experience, and/or physical and mental condition could put them at a greater risk of injury and illness.

But since the advent of COVID-19, our understanding of what may make a worker vulnerable has expanded. "For example," says WSPS Account Manager Kathy Wrzos, "workers could be more vulnerable to injury when returning after an extended absence, or returning to a new job, new work processes or even a physical environment that may be completely different from the one they had left."

Ongoing training programs can help in keeping vulnerable workers healthy and safe, and with COVID-19 introducing new hazards into our workplace, training is more essential than ever.

WSPS eNews asked Kathy for suggestions on how workplaces could incorporate COVID-19 related hazards into the health and safety component of their orientation and training programs. These programs provide new and returning workers with the information they need to perform their duties effectively and safely. This includes the hazards and control measures they may encounter.

"Before you consider changes to your existing orientation and training programs, have you conducted a COVID-19 hazard assessment? If you haven't, do so now. Keep in mind the risk of exposure to COVID-19 itself, as well as any risks introduced as a result of COVID-19 related changes your workplace has made," says Kathy. "Don't take anything for granted. For instance, have you introduced new chemicals for your cleaning and sanitizing protocols?"

Identifying new training content

Kathy suggests reviewing your existing orientation and training programs by posing a series of questions. For example:

  • Has your COVID-19 hazard assessment identified hazards not already addressed by the existing training?
  • What training had new and returning workers received prior to the pandemic? Are there any gaps that your orientation and training programs could fill?
  • What do returning workers need to know before resuming work?
  • What do new workers need to know?

Adapting training delivery

Kathy also offers suggestions on how to deliver training safely while maintaining a safe physical distance:

  • provide interactive virtual training for groups of employees so that participants can ask questions and participate in discussions
  • offer hazard-specific eCourses
  • allocate a large indoor space or open air space for physically distanced safety talks
  • use floor markings and distanced seating so that participants understand how to enter the space, where to stand or sit, and the size of their distancing bubble
  • protect work bubbles by limiting in-person training to members of the same work group

Don't forget the "why"

Here's another vital consideration: besides training your workers on how to work with the COVID-19 protocols or guidelines now in place, include the reasoning behind them.

"The most important thing that I try to communicate with my customers," says Kathy, "is that when you have conversations around changes, explain how they are intended to help reduce potential injuries, of which COVID-19 is just one example." The result: greater buy-in and less complacency.

Keep your training records up to date

Recording the training topic, the content, the learning objectives, and the names and dates of those who took the trainings will help ensure everyone receives the training they need, and help demonstrate due diligence if the need arises.

How WSPS can help

Add these resources to your COVID-19 toolbox: