James Quinn, President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), looks at the role occupational safety and health professionals have played in helping businesses to continue operating through the coronavirus pandemic and shares details of a series of valuable resources available from his organisation.
Societies and health systems worldwide have been tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and are now facing new strains of the coronavirus. Industry and business have been trying to maintain production and trading as the pandemic has taken its human toll. It’s been anything but business as usual.
In just over a year since the first recorded death from COVID-19 in Wuhan in China on 11 January 2020, there have been almost 90 million cases of this coronavirus recorded in 191 countries or regions worldwide. These have resulted in a staggering 1.93 million deaths.
It has indeed been a year without precedent in modern times, causing global upheavals on a scale not seen since the twentieth century’s two world wars. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated people’s ability to learn about communicable diseases, adapt to new hygiene and personal protection measures, adopt new ways of working and take precautions in their daily lives to protect others.
An exceptional international collaborative scientific effort has made rapid discoveries about this disease and its variants and translated that into clinical advice, effective therapies and the development of vaccines in record time that now give the promise of widespread immunity, once mass vaccination programmes can be carried out successfully. Health workers and other essential workers have led efforts to care for many millions and keep supply chains functioning to meet populations’ needs.
Occupational safety and health professionals have proved to be vital facilitators, enabling businesses and organisations to risk-assess and control infection hazards and make sweeping adaptations that enable us to continue and help make a recovery possible.
For their part, manufacturers and engineers have taken steps to reorganise their workplaces, processes and systems so that they can operate more safely and healthily during the pandemic, especially during the various lock-down phases. They have designed innovative uses for existing equipment, introduced automation in procedures to reduce unnecessary human interaction and developed new tools and methods to maintain production and distribution at the highest levels possible within the physical, legal and political constraints imposed by the pandemic. Whether these changes have been big or small, they have all contributed to making workplaces safer. Taken together, they amount to a tremendous endeavour by all concerned and deserve to be recognised.
Throughout 2020, my own organisation, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), responded to the constantly changing situation by gathering, analysing and synthesising a huge amount of information and then producing guidance for our members, for employers and for the general public which we made freely available online. Often we worked with other organisations to research this guidance and then ensure that, once it was published, it could be shared as widely as possible.
The extensive set of resources we developed are available at www.iosh.com/coronavirus. IOSH is now reviewing, reorganising and updating these to focus on areas that help prevent the spread of infection, make workplaces more COVID-secure and look after people and their wellbeing.
Over the coming weeks, we will add new content to these areas, giving additional support for businesses in all sectors to implement safer and healthier cultures and controls. We also have a growing series of case studies showing how businesses have adapted to COVID-19, and our ‘Caring through COVID’ series of webinars hears from health and safety professionals offering practical ways to make work better during the pandemic.
I’d like to invite you to use our resources and share them with your colleagues. I also encourage you, in turn, to share with your fellow professionals how you have used your own knowledge, expertise and creativity to enable your organisation or industry to overcome some of the obstacles that the pandemic has thrown up.