chapter 1

re-thinking workplace safety.


As 2020 continues to surprise us with unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19, companies whose labor strategies depend on a contingent workforce are realizing now, more than ever, how critical their partnerships with staffing companies are. The need to meaningfully contribute best practices and solutions in risk management not only adds much-needed thought leadership and solutions in complex, dynamic working environments, it also creates mutual benefits and advantages for both organizations. Now is a prime time for staffing companies and clients to work better together and add value to the workforce as a whole through better anticipation and management of risks, like injuries and illnesses.

In just a few short months, the thinking and focus around risk and safety has undergone a complete shift. Here’s what we mean:

  • The primary focus for safety has shifted from injury prevention to illness prevention as employers learn to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and related exposures.
  • COVID-related data/reporting have become front and center as drivers of performance and decision-making.
  • There is a heightened sense of need for reliability and risk controls in processes related to illness and injury prevention, as well as an interdependent sense of collaboration among those we depend on for safe work, like staffing agencies and their clients.

The first two items may seem obvious to many of us. It’s interesting to point out, however, that our former thinking often steered our chief risk and safety efforts to primarily focus on preventing physical injuries that could lead to OSHA-recordable events. In other words, the practices, communications and focus between the staffing agency and clients was on preventing physical injury from latent and cumulative risks, often with very little practice or awareness of risks that could lead to illness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our need to develop risk controls and safety practices — between both employers — that effectively combat unseen germs that lead to illness. While the focus is on illness prevention, some employers struggle to find a balanced approach to manage risk to prevent both illness and injury. Others, meanwhile, are seeking to find better solutions for managing risk, both emerging and traditional, in a joint-employer work environment. So where do we start?

For many companies today, the traditional approach to safety and risk is likely focused on post-incident metrics. That's OK — at least for now. But backward-looking reporting isn't setting the bar high enough when it comes to organizational safety and risk today. Celebrating a certain number of days without a safety incident means very little if your organization can't point to specific behaviors and actions that drive desired safety outcomes. That’s true for both injury and illness prevention.

define safety in terms of desired outcomes

It’s often helpful to understand that when we hear the word “safety,” both employers must operate from the same definition. Safety is an outcome. It’s the result of the things we actively "do" in order to create the outcomes we want. In a very real sense, it is the things we actively do together that create a safer working environment, and that doesn’t happen by accident. In joint-employer work environments where continually improving performance in safety is expected, everyone has a role, and there is clarity on the things we do in order to achieve the performance we want. As we learn to work and emerge through the COVID pandemic, now is a great time to learn how to manage risks to acceptable levels in a joint-employer environment. Part of the continual improvement process includes resetting expectations for roles, goals and performance expectations, and we hope these best practices in risk and safety serve you well.

What's required is a shift in mindset: Rather than looking in the rearview mirror, a disciplined team of leaders and workers from each employer learn how to identify risks, provide feedback on desired behaviors and connect performance goals to safety. Upward communications across the entire organization to leaders of both employers is a powerful cultural enabler — and should not be underestimated.

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