Health and safety considerations have been front and centre for employers since the pandemic began. Yet, for some businesses, this has been their focus for years.
Good Sense Workplace Solutions (GSWS) provides custom health and safety, human resources and regulatory compliance solutions to Canadian businesses. With offices in Sault Ste Marie and Vancouver, their clients range from small businesses to blue chip corporations.
Village Media's Content Studio sat down with their two managing partners, Tyler Rains, a Canadian Registered Safety Professional and Kevin Nanne, a labour and employment lawyer, to talk about safety plans, ever-changing regulations and the much-anticipated new normal.
I would imagine the past year has been especially busy for the health and safety branch of your business. What services have you been able to provide to employers that have helped them navigate?
Providing health and safety services and interpreting legislation has always been a core part of our business. This allowed us to pivot fairly quickly when COVID first struck in March 2020. Concerned managers and business owners were seeking advice on how to keep their employees safe. When the government legislated that all operating businesses must have a written COVID safety plan, we were there to assist.
Everyone was so overwhelmed with the new requirements and constant changes. It was very rewarding to see the instant stress relief when we took some of their COVID-related responsibilities off their plate.
As the pandemic churned on and regulations continually changed, we have been able to assist employers in modifying their existing plans to ensure they are still working.
Our job is not only helping employers create a good plan but to actually execute it in a sustainable way so it does what it's designed to do: keep workers safe and keep businesses open.
What might a safety plan include?
A safety plan has two key functions:
- Preventing COVID from entering the workplace
- Minimizing the impact if there is an infection
The primary goal of any safety system, COVID or not, is always prevention. How do we keep the workers safe? Controls like social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and curbside pickup are in place to reduce the number of potential exposures and minimize the possibility of an employee becoming sick.
The second part of the plan is how to respond if there is a positive case. Similar to an emergency response plan, every second counts. The quicker an employer can respond to potential exposures in the workplace the less severe the impact will be. Having a plan prior to a positive test helps the employer manage the situation effectively as it is evolving. You don't want to wait until you have a case before you start figuring out how to respond.
What is the biggest challenge for employers and their safety plans?
The requirement to have a written safety plan is well understood by most employers at this point. Where we see some challenges is employers are failing to modify their safety plans when conditions change. A safety plan can't be a write it and forget it document. It needs to evolve constantly.
We have been very fortunate that much of Northern Ontario has been spared from the same level of outbreaks that we saw in Southern Ontario and the United States. Employers have a very important role to play in keeping everyone safe and healthy. Having an up-to-date safety plan is a key element of that.
This scenario has been with us for over a year. What kinds of issues have employers been coming to you for lately? What are they most concerned about now?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were getting lots of requests for assistance on the HR side of the business. It was calls about temporary layoffs and amending employment contracts for people to work from home. These days, every time the government changes the rules, we get calls from concerned managers about how the new restrictions will affect their business.
The constant changes in legislation and restrictions have been tough on many employers. As business owners ourselves, we understand what others are going through. People are frustrated. It is one more thing that needs to be managed on top of everything else that is going on.
Our benefit to employers is we can quickly sort through what the new changes mean and tell an employer in black and white terms how the new changes affect their business and what they need to do to stay compliant.
How do you see things unfolding for employers in the second half of the year? Do you happen to have any predictions about where things are headed or what they can expect next?
The return to the new normal will look very different from the old normal for many companies. This pandemic will have lasting impacts on the workplace, similar to how 9/11 impacted the airline industry.
Employers will need to be adaptable and flexible with their return to work plans. Not every company will be able to reopen at the same time and the same pace. Some companies have already said they will let their employees continue to work from home after the pandemic.
An employer can take the most important step to start planning what reopening looks like for their company right now. Writing clear policies and setting clear expectations for their employees will help ease the transition back to the new normal.
One of the many things you help employers with is their reopening plans. What kinds of things do you look at?
The process uses the same fundamentals as any other health and safety assessment. We use our expert knowledge to assess the hazards and put controls in place to protect the workers. Right now, we're specifically dealing with an infectious disease but the process doesn't change.
What else should employers know?
Tyler Rains: The most important piece of advice I can give employers is plan, plan, plan. There is an old saying, "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail." That has never been more true. The employers who plan the best will be the ones who have the best chance at successfully coming out of this pandemic.
Kevin Nanne: Employers need to put an emphasis on being proactive as opposed to reactive. There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future looks like right now, but this is where companies that plan will have an advantage when things start to get back to normal.
Our philosophy has always been to let the employers and business owners focus on running their business and let us handle the rest. These are complex issues to deal with. Just give us a call, we're here to help.
For more information, visit Good Sense Workplace Solutions.