Safely Starting Back Up After COVID-19

BIC - June 2020
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Printable Version

As companies pursue a return to normal operations in this uncertain time, how prepared are they to prevent injuries and damage to their safety culture? Whatever their previous safety strategy was, it is time to recreate it in light of these new realities.

With a push to restart the global economy, and due to understandable financially motivated decisions, certain organizations throughout the world are beginning to phase their workforce back into the field. They are doing so while attempting to return to the previously normal cadence of business activities. However, what worked in the past to prevent injuries and illnesses on and off the job will not be part of a workable strategy going forward. Whatever your company's strategic priorities and supporting initiatives were, times have changed, and so must your safety strategy. A people-centered, yet physical distant, safety strategy is needed.

Aligning Employees — Employees will be returning to work. Some have been away from their jobs for months, some only weeks. How will you ensure they are familiarized with the risks they will face? What falls within their collective and individual responsibilities to help mitigate those risks? What information do they need to safely restart their jobs? What do they need in the form of employee assistance programs? Some of these employees were themselves sick or tragically lost loved ones to the virus. Some will be new to the company, as furloughed or laid-off employees might have found other employment. What are your strategic priorities to ensure alignment with the workforce?

Aligning Leadership — Leaders will now have face time with their workforce again. Many of these individuals themselves face the same challenges as their employees. In their leadership roles, will they be prepared to demonstrate the behaviors of the newly needed leadership style? Have you outlined what they will need to do differently to advise, counsel, coach, facilitate, communicate, nudge, etc., their teams? Do they have the skills necessary to fulfill these responsibilities? How will you ensure this is all taking place? What are your strategic priorities to ensure alignment with those in leadership positions?

Aligning Safety Culture — Cultures and subcultures within many companies might have changed, for better or worse, based on shared perceptions of how the company handled its response to this virus. There will likely be new viral stories and fresh experiences shared across the workgroup that will create positive or negative impressions of how much emphasis the company places on safety versus production. These impressions stem from the impressions originally formed when the virus first made news and evolve based on how the company restarts its operations. What are your strategic priorities to ensure the alignment to the safety culture you need to get over the next hurdles?

Adherence to CDC Guidelines — CDC's guidelines on social distancing (only small group gatherings, maintaining 6 feet or 1.5 meters' distance from others), utilizing face masks, and frequent washing of hands or using hand sanitizer are still in place for many until further notice. How will you redesign jobs' specific tasks and the working environment to adhere to these guidelines for the foreseeable future?

These are strategic safety decisions that will impact operations. Ensure collaboration occurs between the heads of operations and safety. These forces must join to customize a plan that works for your company's unique operational, cultural and logistical realities. What will your people-centered, yet physically distant, strategy be?

Shawn M. Galloway is the CEO of ProAct Safety and co-author of several bestselling books. As an award-winning consultant, adviser, leadership coach and keynote speaker, he has helped hundreds of organizations within every major industry to improve safety strategy, culture, leadership and engagement. He is also the host of the highly acclaimed weekly podcast series Safety Culture Excellence®.
For more information, call (936) 273-8700 or email

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