In the face of ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, many businesses have become adept at pivoting quickly. Managed well, the process can create new opportunities. Managed poorly, it can put the business and its employees at risk.
Here's an example: earlier this winter an outdoor patio structure in Toronto that had been built to help keep the business viable collapsed after a heavy snowfall. While the collapse cost the business an estimated $20,000, there were no reported injuries to customers or employees.
This incident offers a cautionary note to businesses having to adjust their business model quickly, says WSPS Consultant Andrew Moffett. Every time a business pivots - re-opening after a closure, building a patio, laying off or hiring staff, changing service offerings (take-out or curbside pickup) - the change could come with health and safety consequences.
"The best way to minimize the consequences," says Andrew, "is to conduct a basic risk assessment before pivoting. Ask yourself, 'What could go wrong here?' Then eliminate or control those risks.
"For a small business, the risk assessment could be as simple as brainstorming with your health and safety rep or joint health and safety committee, and conducting a daily inspection. For a larger company, it would be a more complex process. It comes down to identifying risks for each job and writing them down." (See resources for both at the end of this article.)
Andrew offers three scenarios that illustrate pivoting implications, hazards and solutions.
Scenario 1: inexperienced new hires or fewer employees
You've had to let skilled staff go because of closures or capacity limits and you're now working with a smaller, possibly inexperienced team to get your business customer-ready.
- less knowledge and training time on how to perform tasks safely
- less knowledge of COVID-19 workplace protocols
- fewer people to do the same work
- pressure to work quickly
- slips, trips and falls
- strains and sprains from improper material handling; taking shortcuts
- spreading or contracting COVID-19
- updated orientation training that takes into account operational changes
- short safety talks. "Include a quick morning huddle to talk about the changes, including safety considerations," says Andrew. The talk could be on proper lifting techniques, general health and safety, trip hazards, COVID-19 protocols like mask wearing, handwashing, etc.
Scenario 2: switching to curbside pickup and carry-outs
"In effect, the workplace now extends outdoors, and so does your duty to protect workers," notes Andrew.
- need to quickly create storage areas and shelving
- walking on slippery, snowy surfaces while carrying goods
- working in dark parking lots, in high traffic areas, and/or alone
- slips, trips and falls
- material handling hazards
- shelving collapse
- injuries from motor vehicles
- violent or harassing customer behaviour
- reflective vests/high visibility clothing
- adequate lighting
- security cameras
- buddy system
- daily inspections of patio areas and parking lots - clear, shovel, salt as necessary, ensure any new shelving is stable, secured against tipping or falling, has wheel locks, and is not overloaded
- guidance on dealing with angry customers and ensuring staff are aware of violence and harassment policies and procedures," says Andrew. (See 5 de-escalation tips when responding to agitated customers.)
Scenario 3: quickly installing a temporary outdoor patio
- managing the construction of temporary structures
- using large heating appliances or propane fuel heaters to warm space
- running electrical cords through a space where moisture may be present and creating trip hazards
- moving furniture, setting and clearing tables and work stations, and carrying food on surfaces not designed for that purpose
- structure collapse
- electric shock
- closures by public health for improperly enclosing the space placing the patio
- slips, trips and falls
- musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
- follow the provincial Building Code, and municipal or local public health guidelines when building temporary patios and other structures and using heating appliances
- always store propane tanks outdoors
- ensure surfaces are cleared and dry
- provide training on MSD prevention
- ensure electrical cords are controlled and away from paths of travel
- be aware of surface changes, such as potholes, curbs and raised sidewalks.
Our consultants can help you identify hazards in your workplace resulting from recent or proposed changes to your business model. Call 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).
Download these useful tools:
- Employee Orientation and Training Checklist
- Small Business Hazard Assessment Tool
- Hazard Assessment Tool Instructions
- Employee Violence Risk Assessment Questionnaire
- MSD Risk Assessment
- Conducting a COVID-19 risk assessment before bringing employees back (article)
Register for these training courses:
- Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control (3-hour, classroom)
- Managing Hazards and Risks (3.5 hours, classroom)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.