The second Covid wave reflects this (deadly) combination of human factors
We spoke to Larry Wilson, Author and Co-CEO, SafeStart International to understand the impact on workforce mental wellbeing post the pandemic, how he believes organisations can help alleviate this challenge, the human aspects of safety and wellbeing that he envisages in this scenario and how employees shall benefit from the reworked training programs on human aspects of safety and wellbeing in the changed circumstances.
Disclaimer from the interviewee: Many of my answers are from the SafeConnection expert panel discussions that our company has been putting on in North America, Latin America, Europe, India and the Middle East. So, thanks to all of the panelists who contributed to these answers is in order. It would be a bit disingenuous if I made it sound like it was all coming from me.
Interviewed by Adeesh Sharma
1. What has been the impact on workforce mental wellbeing post the pandemic?
Post-pandemic might be slightly misleading, as it’s hardly over. But if we look at the period since COVID started, then many employees, since we are all people too, have become tired or have “COVID Fatigue”. This has been helped or exacerbated by “Complacency Drift”, meaning we all naturally get less concerned over time. This combination of, “I’m tired of it, tired of hearing about it and tired of having to mask, etc”. combined with, “And, I’m less concerned than I used to be...” is not a good combination for fighting an invisible hazard. And, the second wave that we are experiencing now reflects this (deadly) combination of human factors.
So, that’s what’s happening to normal people. When this new or additional burden is added to people who already have trouble coping, it’s (predictably) going to be even worse.
2. How do you believe organisations can help alleviate this challenge?
Organisations can help their employees deal with the mental issues and stress by approaching the problem from 3 perspectives (points of attack). First, many leading organisations realized that there was too much false information so they made a place (website, helpline, etc.), where their employees could get accurate information. And, they got their leadership involved in communicating what was happening instead of allowing informal channels (grapevine) to dominate. The second thing they did was to implement safety measures at work. And the third thing they did was to help their employees help their families as one weak link is all it takes.
So, reliable communication, new safety practices and PPE, and also a 24/7 component.
3. Please tell us the human aspects of safety and wellbeing that you envisage in this scenario.
The “Human Aspects” of dealing with something like COVID or any other invisible but potentially deadly hazard really come into play when there is a delay between cause and effect. We are pretty good with immediate cause and effect but it’s easy for anyone to become too complacent, far too quickly, unless the really bad thing is someone they know. Then they realize how serious it is. But usually that’s a little too late. So, part of it is recognizing that telling people not to become complacent, especially if you do it over and over, is likely going to be a waste of time or worse: it might make them tired of hearing it and cause frustration. None of these human factors or states will be a help with something like COVID (even being president doesn’t seem to be enough). People will have to develop new habits. That will be a big part of it. But it’s not all of it. If you add enough rushing or frustration or a combination of the two plus a little fatigue and complacency, you will need more than PPE and good habits. You will also need to learn Critical Error Reduction Techniques like “self-triggering”.
I found it interesting when talking with a senior HSE manager from a very large power company in India that the workers who had to deal with electricity (another invisible hazard) were having less problems than with the admin people who weren’t. So, companies need to realize that their employees are not trained and do not have enough experience with invisible hazards to deal with them. Yes, you can teach them. But otherwise, just on their own, most of them will only do so well.
4. How do employees benefit from the reworked training programs on human aspects of safety and wellbeing in the changed circumstances?
Employees can benefit from training programs on Human Factors and Critical Error Reduction Techniques in many ways, not just in terms of injury prevention or infection prevention. Errors can also cost money - sometimes lots of money if you sink a submarine - and they can waste a lot of time. So, it’s more than just safety and health. However, sometimes during a crisis or pandemic like this, where it becomes obvious that this is a 24/7 thing, it’s easier to get management to realize that we need to train people and that safety doesn’t really stop when they leave work.