COVID-19 landed at our shores over 12 months ago now, it has rocked and affected the lives of everyone. However, from a health & safety standpoint what lasting lessons have we learnt?   

Rob Easton, Head of Consultancy at Shield Safety Group, shares his thoughts on the things’ businesses should look to continue and build on in as we gradually return to normality… 

There are lessons learned and new approaches adopted during the pandemic that have undoubtedly improved the safety performance and culture of organisations. These have the potential to lead to even greater improvements.  

Acceleration of technology adoption 

Much of the technology within the hospitality sector we saw come to the fore during the last year had been in existence for some time. The need to serve customers differently and to be able to identify compliance in real time across many sites meant the technology rapidly defused and was adopted in a very short space of time. Examples include ordering and payment apps, digital menus, and the use of online monitoring checks.  

There had been concerns about how customers and staff would adapt to new technologies. What we learnt in in the last 12 months is that consumers view them as an enhancement to their experience, being able to pay faster and having accurate information, for example on allergens.  

For team and managers, the ability to complete digital checks means they are faster, have immediate feedback on non-conformities and records and actions taken can be reviewed remotely.   

For businesses that have yet to adopt such technologies the challenge is for them to see how they can best serve their business and not be left behind. For those that have adopted, it is how best to exploit these new technologies and make it part of their regular ways of working.  

The Guest Journey 

Last year we saw a real change in how safety was integrated into operations. In the past, many safety practitioners would say operations have designed something and then it is for the safety people to pick up the pieces afterwards. In response to the pandemic and recognising that different approaches to hospitality were needed, safety practitioners and indeed our team of consultants were at the forefront of helping businesses design the new guest experience and how COVID safety was weaved through it.  

Hopefully, this has demonstrated that safety should be an enabler to great guest experiences and not something to be feared of. Safety Practitioners should be at the heart of formulating the guest journey and ensuring that customers have a great and safe experience.  

Remote Working 

The year proved that there are many benefits to home working. Reduced travelling means the likelihood, or someone being involved in a road accident whilst at work is reduced considerably and the health benefits of reduced transport-based pollution is well documented. The Health and Safety Executive estimated that up to?a third of all road traffic accidents involve someone who is at work at the time, and this may account for over 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries every week. It follows that less travel must reduce this risk to workers. Further, less travel has seen greater efficiencies and time is spent completing the task, rather than travelling to site. With the obvious benefits it brings for efficiency and cost saving, remote working is likely to become the norm. 

The obvious challenge now is how to manage the new safety challenges that remote working brings, for example display screen usage and differentiate between the workplace and home and ensuring excessive hours are not worked. However, there are the less obvious safety ramifications that need to considered. For example, how to keep teams engaged and have a compassion for those around them. We know that personal interactions increase tolerance and care towards one another, this is essential to developing a positive safety culture.  

Employee and customer expectations 

The independent research commissioned by our Safe to Trade Scheme found that both employees and customers trusted a company more when they could demonstrate independent verification of their safety standards. For employees, this builds trust that the businesses take their well-being seriously and for customers they are more likely to visit a venue that can prove the safety measures are effective and regularly reviewed. 

Over 2020 and the start of 2021, safety became a key decision in customers visiting a premises and they were quick to complain if they felt the required standard was not being met. 

For the rest of 2021 and beyond, there is a chance for businesses with a strong safety culture to continue to communicate this and use as a source of competitive advantage. As employees return to the workplace and hospitality opens its doors again, there will be a high expectation on the safety and hygiene standards of businesses.  

Matching resources and capabilities to the business offer 

A fundamental of business strategy is understanding the resources and capabilities within an organisation and then developing a product or offering that maximise the use of these factors. Often, when assessing accidents or food poisonings, it is found that the business did not have the equipment or knowledge to complete a task or produce food safely.  

Similar to the guest journey, over the last 12 months we saw businesses review their offer to make sure they could do it within the restrictions imposed on them. This included reduced numbers of team in the kitchen and impact on the supply chain. Businesses looked to restructure menus and limit the number of orders they could take in order to do it safely. Hopefully, businesses will continue to consider their resources and capabilities when deciding strategy moving forward. They can then either match their offer or look to improve the resources and the knowledge they have access to.    

Handwashing 

It is estimated that half of foodborne disease cases are attributed to poor hand washing and a million deaths occur globally due to poor hand hygiene. Early reports for food poisoning rates in 2020 to 2021 indicate a reduction in cases, however it is too early to be certain and also to understand other contributing factors.  If nothing else, the start of the pandemic in 2020 brought a focus to hand washing that will hopefully continue on into the future. 

Rob Easton is the Head of Consultancy at Shield Safety Group. Having been a regulator, operator, senior safety leader, coach, and consultant in both the UK and abroad he brings an almost unique rounded view on safety within the hospitality and retail environment. He is a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner and Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and for over 20 years he has supported businesses to improve their safety performance and culture.