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Terrorism created a new paradigm in workplace security and now the pandemic is resulting in another rethink of corporate safety practices to maintain business continuity, safe workspaces, and healthy employees. Terri Mock highlights three key areas that need assessing to help keep your corporate safety policies up to date.

Twenty years ago, the September 11th attacks redefined the way we thought about corporate safety, especially in big cities. Many offices installed metal detectors and added identity checks to keep tabs on who entered and exited buildings. Outside, cities installed sturdy posts and barriers to prevent would-be car bombers from driving into public spaces. In the years since, corporate safety officers have continued to put physical protections in place as workplace violence and active shooters have made headlines.

Today, we’re facing another watershed moment for corporate safety: the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes we made two decades ago guarded against external threats. While these are still real concerns, the immediate challenges that workplace safety managers are facing today are very different.

Leaders are balancing a return to normalcy with the need to keep people safe and healthy amidst uncertainty and without a clear path to follow. To maintain business continuity, safe workspaces, and healthy employees, companies need to review corporate safety practices to ensure they address their company’s business needs, employee concerns, physical locations and other unique requirements.

Given the current circumstances, return-to-work plans will vary from employer to employer. What’s important is that organizations make an effort to update existing workplace safety protocols and ensure that all employees are kept in the loop every step of the way. This is vital at a time when one-third of workers aren’t sure of what their employers would have them do in a number of emergency situations, including active shooter incidents, cyber attacks, viral outbreaks and other crisis events.

To protect their workers, organizational leaders have to revisit safety policies as they consider reopening. Below are three key areas of assessment required to evaluate any gaps that may exist to protect employee safety.

Institute support for employee well-being

One of the biggest differences between 2001 and 2021 is the focus on both physical and mental health. For obvious reasons, COVID-19 is causing a lot of anxiety related to return-to-work plans. To alleviate some of this stress, employers can implement daily health checks to reassure employees that those who are in the office are not sick, or at least not showing any signs of illness. Daily health checks are useful to identify employees who should stay home rather than go into the office.

On top of conducting daily health checks, it may make sense for employers to provide on-site mental health support. Having mental health counselors available can go a long way in making employees feel they are adequately supported, especially those feeling significant stress from the pandemic.

Personal safety apps can also be useful for engaging employees about their health. These apps make it easy for employers to administer surveys, collect feedback and share updates in a manner that is more likely to reach people than internal emails. Additionally, personal safety apps provide an anonymous channel through which employees can submit tips about unsafe practices and potential risks. Outlets of this type give employees the opportunity to express honest thoughts and feel heard by leadership.

Refresh safety procedures

After September 11th, public and private office buildings added new safety infrastructure and made changes to physical environments to boost security. Companies need to consider workforces that are now split between the office and at home to some degree. Hybrid workforces add complexity to safety planning, as corporate safety managers have to ensure that everyone knows what to do in an emergency, including people who seldom come into the office.

In many cases, the first step is to update floor plans to reflect any changes in how desks or offices are arranged to meet social distancing guidelines. New floor plans should be posted in high-traffic areas and uploaded to sites that employees can access easily. Companies also need to review their network security technology and make sure that their IT infrastructure is designed to handle the security of people, equipment, and intellectual property for a distributed workforce.

It’s also important for employers to recognize that the risk of violent interactions occurring between employees is elevated due to the increased mental stress everyone is under. Personal safety apps can be helpful here when used as mobile panic buttons. In the event that a violent situation occurs, employees can alert security instantly to request assistance.

Upgrade critical communication tools

Legacy communication protocols underwent major changes after September 11th. The attacks exposed weaknesses in our existing technology and processes, forcing many to invest resources in new solutions. Over the last eighteen months, the need to provide timely and targeted critical communications have caused companies to again re-evaluate their current notification systems.

To keep remote and in-office workers updated with critical information as situations unfold, organizations need an emergency notification system that supports multimodal communications (SMS, email, desktop alerts, automated voice calls, etc.) with the ability to assign different channels to unique use cases. For instance, employers might want to use SMS for urgent updates (e.g., active shooter on premise) and reserve email for routine messages.

Critical communication systems should also support two-way interactions and extend functionality beyond the organization. Today’s safety ecosystem should include corporate security, first responders, emergency services dispatch, and other public safety agencies and enable all parties to work together simultaneously during emergency situations.

Implementing best practices for corporate safety is essential if employers are to reopen their offices successfully. Fortunately, there are technology-based solutions that make implementing daily health checks, reinforcing in-office safety protocols, and upgrading communication workflows easy. Employees want to know that their employers are being intentional about reopening and implementing the appropriate health and safety policies for their protection.

The author

Terri Mock, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Rave Mobile Safety.

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