No-one could have predicted the reality of covid-19 on the world stage, and its unprecedented health and economic impacts on people and countries across the world, and whilst health professionals and first responders are working tirelessly to keep us safe, government and business leaders are working vigorously to mitigate the economic fall-out and to protect businesses and ultimately jobs.
Michele Beale, Director - Head of Safety Frazer Jones Australia, explores the ramifications of coronavirus on the HSEQ marketplace, and the evolving trends and the impacts upon businesses in Australia.
Michele talks about marketplace trends in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the issues and challenges that have emerged in the market, inherent opportunities from this health crisis, and predictions and advice for HSEQ Professionals and businesses for the future.
What marketplace trends are you currently witnessing in HSEQ recruitment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
There has been a trend for mid-level (Advisor/Coordinator) short to medium term contract roles to support the existing safety team. We are also seeing specialist temp roles such as SMS specialists. Another area that has seen activity is that in Workers Compensation, Health & Wellbeing. A demand for technical writers who are able to generate policy’s and procedures quickly is another area that clients have required.
Are any demographics (e.g Heads of, middle management, juniors etc) being hit harder than others?
With a health pandemic, we have naturally seen an increase in demand for HSEQ professionals. All organisations have a duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and that of the customers in which they service.
As a result, we have not seen a decline in any areas of HSEQ recruitment. We have, however been hearing that businesses have been sharing resources, with HR teams who have been assisting safety teams with administration.
What are the major issues that employers will be facing – presently and in the near future – as a result of the pandemic?
For HSEQ there has been a recognition by some organisations that allocating a Pandemic Specialist has been a viable response to ensure all communication and safety messages are delivered in an effective and timely manner.
Employers should also be aware of possible workers’ compensation claims amid Covid-19. It has been reported that dozens of Australians have already lodged workers’ compensation claims related to Covid-19. In NSW alone it has been advised that 153 claims or notifications related to Covid-19 have been lodged, including 23 where a worker had tested positive to the disease. Employer obligations include, ensuring physical distancing and good hygiene practices at workplaces that remain open, as well as well as ensuring the wellbeing of employees who have switched to working-from-home arrangements – including ensuring they have access to mental health support. Workers’ compensation definitely does extend to Covid-19 and employers need to make sure that they prepare and manage that risk in their workplace.
Conversely, what are some opportunities that can and will arise as a result of the pandemic?
Now is the time to turn challenges into opportunities and to move forward in the long term.
There’s nothing like a crisis to drive businesses to re-examine what could put a stop to their operations and importantly, encourage more focus on working differently to further improve their occupational health and safety practices - not only to stand up to a temporary environment of increased risk but to carry forward beyond COVID -19.
Up until now, too many businesses have focused on minimum compliance rather than striving for excellence in health and safety, leading to inadequate investment. I think the biggest positive that has emerged through this pandemic has been the education around personal hygiene, as well as the need for workplaces to also maintain a high degree of cleanliness. Going forward it is crucial that proper funding and priority is given to preserving health – which in turn will create a stronger economy and one which can stand up better in times of crisis.
Given the likelihood that COVID19 will remain in existence and we have for the first time in generations been forced to consider and deal with this type of risk, I believe it will broaden the recognised scope of safety and risk which must be viewed as a positive.
What advice, if any, would you offer to HSEQ Professionals coming through the ranks and/or those who have been made redundant/asked to reduce salary or hours?
For new safety professionals I think it probably expands their risk awareness to include hygiene and social interactions. For those who have been subjected to reduced hours I assume that will revert in due course. For those seeking work I again assume the number of opportunities will increase once the lockdown rules are minimised.
It is evident that we are going through a period of profound change and significant challenges, and no one has all the answers or fully knows what the future will bring. However, whilst these unprecedented times create trials for some, and however testing they may seem, it is important to see that with those challenges, can also come great opportunities.