Managing occupational health & safety in times of COVID-19

By Cecil Oates, MD of Goscor Lift Truck Company

Until now, the success of occupational health and safety within organisations was mainly down to how each individual conducted themselves in the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the status quo – the single-individual safety threat no longer exists.

Occupational health & safety has become an issue that needs to be addressed collectively. At Goscor Lift Truck Company (GLTC), we have, however, always understood that the prevention of occupational risks will only work if the organisation lives and breathes a safety culture, where everyone takes responsibility, not only for their own well-being, but also of others around them.

What COVID-19 has taught us is that only a joint prevention effort, anchored by a strong organisational health & safety culture, will ensure sound occupational health & safety. It is a principle of solidarity, one that we have always cultivated at GLTC. Our safety team has been successful in planting a safety culture that is adaptable to the needs of the business at any given time. We have policies and procedures which are easy to develop and adapt.

When COVID-19 hit, we were able to adapt and meet all the legal requirements in terms of screening, but more importantly, the processes to ensure that we have limited business interruption. These include people working remotely as far as possible; protocols when people have to visit the office; when our people have to visit customers; and when we receive information about people who have tested positive to ensure no or limited business interruption.

The initial hard lockdown gave us the opportunity to appreciate the risk. As a business we can’t afford another stringent lockdown of that nature, and therefore we are strict in following social distancing, personal protection and sanitising principles.

In fact, health & safety has always been a top priority at GLTC. By successfully attaining OHSAS 18001 in February 2018, we demonstrated that employee safety and well-being are at the top of our agenda as an organisation, which has placed us in good stead to deal with the current COVID-19 situation. Sound occupational health & safety policies are essential for our employees, but they are also increasingly important for an organisation’s customers and other stakeholders.

OHSAS 18001 certification enables the company to manage operational health & safety risks that present themselves at any given point. This standard addresses several key areas, including: hazard identification, risk assessment and determining controls.

We have recently gone a step forward by attaining ISO 9001: 2015 and ISO 45001: 2018 certification. The audit and confirmation of this accreditation was in February 2020. ISO 9001: 2015 and ISO 45001: 2018 is the integrated management system which basically indicates that we have policies for Quality, Health & Safety and Environmental Management, and that these policies and procedures are aligned. With that said, getting the certification is one thing, now is only the start of a journey to build on a process of continuous improvement.

This has been a long journey that started way back in 2016 with the aim to achieve the ISO 9001 Quality Management System accreditation. This was awarded and in 2018 we aimed for and added OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health & Safety Management to our long list of accreditations. This base allowed for management buy-in to push ever forward to achieve the latest ISO 9001: 2015 and ISO 45001: 2018 Integrated Management System (IMS) certification.

I have always believed that ISO is not only a standard, but a good business management tool. All businesses need to have systems, so why not follow an internationally recognised standard that tells us which systems are important and all the aspects that need to be considered. Ultimately, each company has to define its own systems that are suitable to its business and then follow the system and improve it as you go.

ISO 9001 / OHSAS 18001 is now a minimum requirement for most company tenders, so for GLTC the ISO 9001: 2015 and ISO 45001: 2018 IMS not only ensures that we stay one step ahead of our competitors, but also protects both our staff and our valued customers.

As a business we have only started the journey and now have the building blocks to improve our business. We are aware that the scope of improvement is huge and are excited about the opportunity to not only provide a better service to our customers, but in the process look after the wellness of our staff, especially in the face of the current pandemic, and most importantly, our impact on the planet.