The twilight zone: occupational health and safety during COVID-19

March 3, 2022

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By Malcolm Dodge, VP risk services

Do you remember “The Twilight Zone” that aired on TV in the early 1960s?

Its famous theme music instantly drew viewers into the world of the surreal. At the beginning of each episode, Rod Serling spoke of moving into another dimension of sight, sound and mind, to a land of shadow and substance, things and ideas. Similarly, the past couple of years have welcomed us into a strange new dimension of workplace health and safety — our own real-life version of the twilight zone.

For going on two years now, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked absolute havoc on the health and well-being of people and societies around the world. Further, questions about how best to conduct ourselves in this pandemic-era twilight zone have become sources of division and contention in workplaces, schools, houses of worship, sporting arenas and even among family members and friends.

What the numbers tell us

One point that’s difficult to argue is the demonstrated benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Research data clearly indicate that people who get vaccinated are significantly less likely to require hospitalization or lose their lives due to COVID. The data also tell us that a disease that came into being in late 2019 quickly became the third-leading cause of death in the United States in 2020. COVID should not be equated with the flu or other “minor” health conditions that people contract from time to time; unfortunately, it is a far more effective killer.

Our responsibility

Professionals in occupational safety, human resources and risk management — and, for that matter, anyone concerned about workplace productivity and wellness — should take a serious look at the policies and procedures they have in place to protect employees and anyone else entering their workspaces against COVID-19. In the risk services arena, when we see a significant pattern of workplace injury or illness, our best practice is to conduct an analysis of such events, work to understand the root causes, and refine and enhance prevention efforts in the interest of safety; the same should hold true for curbing the spread of COVID.

In today’s unpredictable environment, a wellness program aimed at maximizing workplace safety and employee health cannot be considered complete without the inclusion of steps to reduce COVID exposure risks. Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked the implementation of a vaccine mandate developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for employers of 100 or more, the principle behind the mandate — protecting the workforce from grave danger — remains more pressing than ever.

Remaining vigilant

Sedgwick’s back to business team is here to support you in designing and implementing workplace solutions that minimize COVID risks through vaccine programs, masking, social distancing, testing, exposure management and other methods of risk mitigation and avoidance. While the inclination for complacency is quite natural after nearly two years of this pandemic, we encourage industry professionals to continue studying the data around COVID-19 and its transmissibility, regularly reviewing their prevention efforts, and cultivating a climate of compliance that favors the light. Hopefully, our collective commitment to curbing the spread of COVID will lead us out of this twilight zone and back to a less surreal reality.

Tags: Compliance, coronavirus, COVID-19, health, Occupational, Occupational health, Occupational injury, Performance, Productivity, Safety, Vaccine, Vaccine Mandates, View on people, View on performance, Wellbeing, Wellness, Workplace health, Workplace safety