What steps are organisations taking to return to work safely?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of members. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institue of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 12 May, 2020 - 20:45
Industry news
National News

Safely returning to the workplace after the coronavirus pandemic and monitoring the ongoing health and safety of employees requires collecting an unprecedented amount of employee data, particularly employee health information, according to Gartner.

“Public health considerations have dramatically softened local social, cultural, and privacy norms,” said Vidhya Balasubramanian, managing vice president in Gartner’s legal and compliance practice.

“While many companies are facing business pressures to return to the workplace, the most progressive companies understand this decision requires a ‘dial,’ not a ‘switch.’

“Any plans to effectively balance the employee health and safety requirements with legal and privacy considerations must also include mechanisms to monitor developments and appropriately calibrate the response as necessary,” said Balasubramanian.

A recent Gartner survey found that 59 per cent of legal leaders are considering or currently collecting COVID-19 test results and 47 per cent are considering or collecting current symptom data.

Many are working with HR and facilities to collect temperature data (keeping privacy considerations in mind) and using contact tracing apps and technologies to monitor employee locations.

The survey also found that 95 per cent of legal leaders said that social or physical distancing measures must be put in place before allowing any return to work.

Many are preparing a “return to workplace” playbook which includes protecting employees, establishing social or physical distancing requirements, providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and screening for symptoms.

The US-based poll took in 95 legal leaders and also found that 55 per cent of general counsel feel least prepared to address employee safety decisions.

“Most organisations aren’t completely ready to return to the workplace right now,” said Balasubramanian.

“However, legal leaders are developing return to workplace standards and protocols that will enable employees to safely return to work and also comply with any local requirements and public health considerations.”

Gartner said legal and compliance leaders should focus on three main aspects of returning to work:

·       Monitoring developments for when to return to the workplace;

·       Developing new work standards that will ensure employee safety and compliance with local mandates; and

·       Working with business leaders to develop new onsite safety measures that will protect employee health and privacy.


“As local mandates regarding lockdowns and essential business vary significantly, legal and compliance leaders are faced with tough decisions in balancing employee health and safety considerations, local restrictions, and pressures to return to the workplace,” said Balasubramanian.