Occupational health and safety of workers – more important than ever?
The Worker Protection Act [ArbeitnehmerInnenschutzgesetz (ASchG)] together with ISO 45001 and ISO 22301 serve the purpose of reducing mental stress among workers and strengthening business continuity in the own organization.
Our private and business life has been intensively influenced by COVID-19 over the past nine months. The latest governmental regulations https://www.qualityaustria.com/en/product-groups/risk-and-security/iso-22301/pose a challenge to everyone; however, the systematic approach of management systems can strongly support in overcoming these challenges.
It has emerged as a key issue for companies that it is essential to maintain the health of workers and thus the ability to continue to operate.
On the one hand, business continuity is based on compliance with legal requirements and, on the other hand, also on organizational actions that need to be taken to ensure that a sufficient number of competent personnel is available.
The Worker Protection Act [ArbeitnehmerInnenschutzgesetz (ASchG)] applies to all employers and employees: Based on the ASchG, an employer is responsible for ensuring that workers in the company are not exposed to any work-related hazards. Except for the health sector (as in the case of hospitals, for example) the COVID-19 virus is not a direct work-related hazard to workers. However, the different Laws and Regulations, such as the “COVID-19 Gesetz” (Act), “COVID-19 Maßnahmenverordnung” (Measures/Restrictions Ordinance), “COVID-19 Lockerungsverordnung” (Ordinance on easing the restrictions) etc. include specifications on how a workplace environment shall be designed.
However, the vital and fundamental interest of a company, in addition to protecting its workers, lies in maintaining its capability to operate, i.e. in ensuring business continuity. ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety) and ISO 22301 (Business Continuity Management Systems) provide a systematic approach for solving the challenges of these two topics.
It should be noted that the risk of infection is usually not a hazard directly caused by work. This, of course, excludes professions in the healthcare / care and assistance sector. But the pandemic does not end at the factory gate: In the case of Corona virus, it is impossible to avoid the interconnection of work and private life.
ISO 45001 mainly focuses on the holistic preventive approach.
An organization is responsible for the occupational health and safety of workers and others who can be affected by its activities. This responsibility includes promoting and protecting their physical and mental health.
By implementing the normative requirements of ISO 45001, a preventive approach can be established systematically.
When working in a company, the „stressing” factors affecting employees, the risk of infection when traveling to and from the workplace and contact with colleagues and customers / suppliers must be taken into account.
Working from home reduces the risk of infection, but the demand on one’s own organizational competence increases. However, the organizational competence required when working from home also includes psychological stress factors that should be considered in advance (for example, workplace design – kitchen table instead of an office desk; location and time-flexible work, children at home, etc.).
Other aspects to be considered include the large number of online meetings or telephone conferences etc. Besides technical challenges (such as a stable internet connection or the technical competence of workers), this new way of working has a strong self-organizational component, which can also lead to increased psychological stress.
Preparation is essential
ISO 45001 also addresses the issue of mental stress (see introduction, clause 3.18 or A 220.127.116.11) which can be used specifically for preventive considerations. The probability that companies will have to deal with infection of workers is realistic. In addition to the questions of organizations, such as
- „What to do in cases of employees’ absence of work?“ and
- „Are there any quarantine measures for contact groups imposed by the authorities?
the central question is:
- „What does this information do to people, to workers?”
A targeted preparation and the creation of scenarios can build up trust among workers, so that an occurred case of infection will no longer be an uncontrolled event, but is „organizationally” controlled. Here, clear information, discussion of the scenarios in the sense of an emergency response exercise, open communication and procedural rules are useful aids.
ISO 22301, with its proactive tools of the Business Impact Analysis (BIA), can systematically help the persons responsible in companies to plan and improve scenarios: first, to avoid the disruption of activities, and, second, should they already be disrupted, to quickly and systematically resume them.
The BIA is a consideration of interdependencies of processes, which is based on the interaction of processes.
Communication is the key
An essential topic in both standards is the communication and learning from communications in the sense of continual improvement. Communication must not only be ensured within the team, but also in direct conversation with the direct managers. It must be considered that personal communication also involves those people who have no physical contact with the working team as they are working from home. When communicating under COVID-19 conditions, it is essential to ensure that the topics communicated are correctly understood and that workers also have the opportunity to contribute their experiences in order to ensure further operational development.
Through the interaction of the two standards ISO 45001 and ISO 22301 it can be achieved very simply but systematically to reduce the extent of mental stress of workers and, at the same time, to ensure business continuity of the own organization.