The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a new priority for large and small businesses and non profit organizations around Canada. To keep its employees and customers safe, each business now has to give some thought to how it can introduce a program for the effective use of personal protective equipment (PPE). In this article, we will lay out 4 key decision points that each business must confront as it creates a program to introduce PPE into its operations.
The use of PPE, whether masks and respirators or disinfectants and cleaners, should be considered as a component of the organization’s risk management and business continuity programs. A breakout of viral infections among either its employees or customers would be a major threat to the continuation of business operations or even to its very existence. As a result, management should introduce its PPE program only after careful planning and consideration and with due attention to the need to obtain the buy in and support of employees and customers.
Establish An Effective Hierarchy Of Risk Controls
As mentioned above, management should regard planning to introduce a PPE program as a component of the company’s business continuity and risk management strategy. In this case, the risk that the business is managing is that of a viral infection breakout. In that context, the business needs to come up with plans for various control strategies including elimination, transfer and reduction of the risk. These strategies should form part of a hierarchy, with PPE forming a part of the reduction strategies. It is important to recognize that, as a result of this hierarchy, PPE should be among the last lines of defence the business employs. Other strategies such as elimination of the risk (e.g. having employees work from home) or transferring it (possibly outsourcing risky operations to other businesses better equipped to handle the risk) should come first wherever possible.
Risk reduction strategies include social distancing, frequent and thorough hand washing and a program to introduce the use of PPE by selected employees or customers. However, because these strategies will not completely eliminate the risk, management should employ them only for personnel or operations for which elimination or transfer are not possible or practical.
Secure The Support Of Employees & Customers For The Program To Introduce PPE
As important as the need to establish an effective hierarchy of risk control strategies is the need to secure the support of employees and customers for the PPE program. To achieve this, the business should clearly communicate its commitment to the program and the reasons for its introduction. The communication of the reasons for the program should include all parties – managers, supervisors, customers and even the supplier of the PPE the business is using in the program.
Employees should be encouraged to ask questions if they need any additional guidance on aspects of the PPE program. For large organizations, the program should be designed in such a way that each employee has quick access to someone in his or her department who will be able to respond and provide helpful information in response to such requests.
Management should also encourage employees to submit suggestions for further improvement of the program. Having such opportunities available to them, and seeing their suggestions being considered seriously for implementation will undoubtedly improve employee participation in and commitment to the program for PPE use.
Important Components Of Education Programs
Probably the most important component of a communication strategy to ensure the support of employees and customers will be continuing education programs covering the importance of PPE to the welfare of emlpoyees and customers. It is important not to leave employees with the impression that they need to wear PPE purely because management requires it. It will be more effective if they are aware of the hazards that are present and how the use of PPE protects their well being.
Another important component of an education program that will increase support for a program to introduce PPE is training on how to use and care effectively for workers’ PPE equipment. For example, employees who need to wear KN95 or N95 respirators should receive careful training in how to ensure a proper fit for these items. Be sure to include not only employees who need to constantly use PPE, but also those who occasionally need to use it in the performance of their duties.
It is also important to conduct these programs on an ongoing basis to ensure that employees are constantly aware of the importance of using PPE diligently and properly. PPE training should also be part of the onboarding program for new employees. Employee performance management should also include components that reflect the employee’s commitment to and support of the PPE program. This will help to communicate to employees how seriously management takes its program to introduce the use of PPE as an integral part of the organization’s operations.
Appoint Someone Responsible For PPE Program Management & Co-ordination
The third key component of the successful implementation of a program to introduce PPE use is the appointment of someone who will be responsible for the management and co-ordination of the program across the organization. This will help to ensure that the program is introduced and managed consistently across the organization. It will also help to ensure that management is communicating the goals of the program and its commitment to it consistently across the organization. These will in turn help to maintain employee morale and commitment to the PPE program.
As mentioned above, a large organization (perhaps with operations in different locations) will benefit from the appointment of local PPE program managers in each location. This will ensure that each employee can quickly reach someone who can effectively answer his or her questions and field suggestions relating to the program. The local PPE program managers would report to the central program manager mentioned above in order to ensure consistency of program management and communication across a large organization.
Re-evaluate The PPE Program On A Continual Basis
As the pandemic evolves, it is important to take account of the impact of its evolution and re-evaluate and adjust the PPE program to take account of changes. For example, government mandates for social distancing, gatherings, etc. will change from time to time. As a result, management will need to consider whether it needs to update its PPE program for continuing compliance with these mandates.
The search for a vaccine may also have an impact on the PPE program. As vaccinations become available, management may find it advisable to introduce some of these alongside its PPE program to ensure maximum possible protection for its employees.
The organization’s management should therefore establish regular reviews of its PPE program to consider these external events as well as suggestions from employees as to how to improve program effectiveness. This will ensure that the program is at all times taking account of external and internal developments and is operating as effectively as possible.