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COVID-19 presents special complications for employee training

A few weeks back I had a roofing employee with 30 years’ experience pull me aside and ask about all that is going on with the Covid-19 pandemic.

I could tell he was genuinely concerned. I was flattered that he was taking time to talk to me. I was also proud that by the end of our chat, you could see that a weight was lifted off his shoulders. That’s why it’s important we keep talking to each other during this pandemic.

COVID-19 safety training can be difficult, since we’re still learning about the disease and a lot of misinformation continues to circulate. Effective safety training during the pandemic – like all good safety training, will be about winning the support of your team, using approaches and materials from respected and recognized sources, and having a plan for ongoing training to keep COVID safety front and center – now and in the future.

For starters, the priority needs to be the safety and health of your employees and their families. At the same time, effective training can help you meet OSHA and Wisconsin state requirements while also providing risk management and insurance coverage.

Winning hearts and minds
Reducing risks at your workforce is the main goal of safety training for COVID-19. But another important goal is to help people feel safe and confident about coming to work.

Some employees may still be skeptical about the dangers of COVID, so it may be like trying to teach fall-protection safety when not everyone is convinced it’s needed. Others may not believe that their safety concerns can be fully considered, no matter what you do.

The best approach is to emphasize – frequently – that the goal is to keep everyone safe and that solving larger public health and public policy issues is not part of the agenda. Communication is indispensable. Just sending out emails or posting things on is not enough.

Talk to your employees. Invite candid questions. Have the facts ready and use them. But also keep reminding employees that the goal is to keep them safe – and sane – throughout this pandemic.

The right stuff
Fundamental to good training is finding reliable sources for training and training materials. The Associated General Contractors of America (ACG) has training materials and other resources you can rely on. So does the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which offers excellent print and social-media resources you can use to teach basic COVID knowledge and safety.

All training should explain and further your COVID safety plans. The ACG offers a sample plan for COVID-19 exposure prevention, preparedness and response. Tailor this plan to the specific needs of your organization, workforce and worksites.

Training can be done effectively in small groups with social distancing. It can also be done in short periods. There are online sites like Lezage and Turning Technologies that can be equally effective if meeting face-to-face is not an option.

There are auditing systems that can give clients real-time inspections without going out in big groups. These can then be used to increase safety at the jobsite or facility. Risk management tools can also be relied on to streamline your training, safety audits, employee development and perhaps reduce risk. They can be tailored to your needs and help make sure your team is working together toward a safe and healthy workplace.

Staying the plan
Initial training must be followed up with ongoing training. This can be accomplished using signs, informal meetings, social media and texting. Toolbox talks, daily huddles and job meetings are great ways to accomplish this. You can also do something as simple as talking to small groups when out on a jobsite or walking the floor. You would be surprised how much a five-minute chat about what is going on and what you’re seeing can do for employee morale.

COVID-19 safety training can help your organization keep its people safe, meet legal requirements, and help improve your risk management and insurance situation. There’s no one plan that will work for every organization. Tailor whatever one you have to your needs, monitor your worksites for compliance with safety standards and keep providing training to get the results you need. COVID-19 may be with us for a while, but with good initial and ongoing training we can work to keep our employees safe and keep our worksites going.

Bruce Morton is a senior loss control consultant at the Milwaukee office of Marsh & McLennan Agency. He can be reached at bruce.morton@marshmma.com.

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