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Risk In Context

Preparing Employees through Communication and COVID-19 Training

Posted by Kristy Nicholson August 10, 2020

Once you have established a COVID-19 return-to-the-workplace plan, and you have taken measures to prepare your workplace, it’s important to establish a communications and training plan to prepare your employees for their “new” working environment.

Employees returning onsite will likely be concerned about being exposed to or infected by COVID-19 and bringing it home to family members. These concerns should be addressed directly through frequent communications and by sharing the precautions your organisation is implementing to keep them safe.

Here are three ways to stay connected with your employees, keep them informed and address any concerns they may have.

Establish Frequent Communications

Engagement is key to effectively implementing and sustaining the COVID-19 response. A comprehensive COVID-19 Communications and Engagement Plan is important in encouraging effective commitment from all impacted by the changes. At the heart of the plan should be an understanding of desired outcomes. Once these outcome goals are defined, the initial plan may be developed, implemented, and assessed.

What, how, and when you communicate will be critical to creating and maintaining a safe work environment for employees. Consider sharing in advance your return to the workplace plan or playbook, what your organisation is doing to keep employees safe, and the role employees play in maintaining a safe work environment.

Ongoing communications may consist of signs, videos, text messages, emails, newsletters, toolbox talks, and/or other media. While you will likely use general messaging for the broader employee group, consider if you should also develop segmented and tailored messaging for any specific subsets of your employees who may need additional, more detailed information based on their role or specific personal circumstance. Your team should also determine the frequency of communications for specific topics to ensure an appropriate cadence.

For example, to help mitigate COVID-19 transmission, your organisation will likely increase its housekeeping practices, including more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. Share these practices with your employees as well as any updates made to your housekeeping plan. Transparency regarding your new guidelines for sanitisation and regular updates will aid in bolstering employee confidence.

Click here to learn about the five key steps to developing and implementing a Communications and Engagement Plan.

Provide Feedback Opportunities

Raising employee awareness of the organisation’s COVID-19 response is a fundamental element of your return to the workplace plan. However, it is not enough to just explain entry requirements for employees and visitors or advise on training plans. This is an opportunity to take a consultative approach with employees, demonstrating not only leadership and accountability for your return to the workplace plan, but also giving employees a voice. Consider facilitating an avenue for employees to provide feedback and ask questions using such means as surveys and regular team check-ins. This can provide reassurance to employees, helping to decrease anxiety about returning to the workplace.

Your return to the workplace orientation should reaffirm the organisation’s commitment to employee safety and welfare and review any key safety hazards inherent in any new operations. This will increase employee confidence and serve as a means of re-establishing the organisation’s emphasis on occupational safety.

Provide Training

Employees will experience a completely new working environment and be expected to adhere to new and revised policies and procedures to help keep the workplace safe for all. The more employees understand about COVID-19 and the precautions the organisation is implementing to protect them, the greater chance for an expedient resumption of operations with minimal significant incidents.

Specialised training may be necessary depending on an employee’s role. The enhanced training would be in addition to a general introduction to COVID-19 and the organisation’s response. Below are some training topics to consider as workers return to the workplace, and should form part of your overall COVID-19 response plan.

Training on General Information

Return to work training can address the following as applicable to your organisation:

  • That employee safety is paramount.
  • General information about the COVID-19 virus.
  • Explanation on how COVID-19 spreads.
  • Symptoms of COVID-19.
  • What to do if you feel ill, whether at work or at home.
  • General information on personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • General information on reporting suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, and how that information will be handled by the organisation, including the level of detail potentially disclosed to other workers.
  • Importance of frequent and thorough hand washing.
  • Respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Reinforcement/encouragement to stay home if sick.
  • Guidance on work-related travel and interactions with clients, customers, and vendors.
  • Information on contact tracing.
  • Considerations around the transportation of employees to and from work.
  • Any changes in the employee benefits package, such as an increase in the number of days for paid sick leave.
  • Physical distancing and contact reduction. 
  • Discouragement of using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.

Training on Specific Information

Organisations should work with their legal counsel and regulatory experts to monitor and assess which regulations apply to the business and determine whether specific information should be communicated to employees. These include:

  • If the organisation is issuing a facial mask other than a respirator to its staff, then it should also consider how to minimise the chance of contaminating the mask when placing it on, removing it, and storing it.
  • Guidelines for sanitary services such as disinfecting touchpoints around the facility, including door handles, cabinet handles, restroom fixtures, and lift buttons.

Organisations should consider additional training topics if certain COVID-19 requirements were not part of previously assigned tasks. Potential training topics include:

  • Chemical safety: many employees who did not come in contact with chemicals prior to COVID-19 should be trained about the hazards of cleaning materials such as disinfectants, how they can protect themselves, and where to find copies of applicable safety data sheets.
  • Eye and face protection: many employees will never have used eye or face protection previously and should be trained in correct use.
  • PPE assessments for any new tasks or work arrangements created by the potential for the presence of COVID-19 and how to minimise the risks associated with new hazards in the workplace.
  • Post-COVID-19 orientation should reaffirm the organisation’s concern for employee safety and welfare and review any key safety hazards inherent in the operations as a means of re-establishing the organisation’s emphasis on occupational safety. Working with the added potential of virus risk in the workplace is going to be a distraction that can be mitigated through frequent communications and information.

Whether you are currently developing a return-to-the-workplace plan for your organisation or looking for information on how to improve it, download our comprehensive and free guide: Practical Guide to Returning to Work Safely (AU Edition).

LCPA Number.: 20/477

Kristy Nicholson

National Manager – Safety, Workforce Strategies

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