Along with General Duty Clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), businesses today, in the midst of COVID-19, need to ensure a standard-of-care model that keeps employees, as well as customers, safe in the workplace and retail spaces.
During the pandemic, standard of care should be reconsidered because it impacts standard operating procedures that may have originally been created with OSHA in mind, before social distancing, sanitary and hygienic workspaces, and new modalities became the “new normal.”
Many of these new elements may carry through post-pandemic, such as digitizing audit trails to reduce liability, but others may not. Either way, businesses now have the opportunity and, in some cases, the need to implement a standard of care that will change the work environment now and into the foreseeable future.
Leadership can implement these standards of care through (1) an impactful commitment to keeping employees and customers safe and (2) a change in leadership model that engages and empowers workers at the same time as it increases efficiencies and reduces downtime, both essential in today’s global COVID-19 economy.
These days, as states decide what rules to put into effect every day is a new day. How will the rules--to mask or not, to socially distance or not, to socially distance with a mask or not--present both new challenges and opportunities to lead and work?
No matter how we fully open back up, providing the optimal standard of care for both employees and customers is more important than ever. What management processes and leadership approaches do leaders need to build and maintain standards of care?
Standard of care (SOC) is simple: the standards we apply to take safe care (legally read as the amount of precaution, prudence, and diligence) of our employees and customers. Legally, a standard of care refers to actions taken by the individual who has duty to the plaintiff.
Industries are generally held to their industry’s standard of care, which is dependent on circumstances and the industry standards involved. In fact, while it is important to be aware and make best efforts to follow industry standards of care, it is even more important to follow the publicized standards and steps. Lawyers and courts have all sorts of expectations about how these standards need to be met.
OSHA’s Worker Safety Series provides data and information on safety and standards. For example, on warehousing, OSHA lists that:
- The fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries.
- Potential hazards for workers in warehousing include:
- Unsafe use of forklifts
- Improper stacking of products
- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment
- Failure to follow proper lockout/tag out procedures
- Inadequate fire safety provisions
- Repetitive motion injuries.
Now add to OSHA’s list the danger of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace and the preventive measures taken to keep employees and customers virus free. These new measures may very well become the accepted industrial and professional standards in the long term.
Standard of care is all about reasonable expectations considering the circumstances. For example, workers expect that you will sanitize workspaces and provide PPE for those working indoors. But again this also depends on where you work and what your local and state governments have legislated. For example, we will always need to keep sufficient amounts of PPE on-site, in inventory. Will changes to how we do things now will make such pandemic planning a regular, seamless part of the workday?
What are the new standards of care that COVID-19 health officials recommend? For example, for daily functioning of a warehouse or factory, you need to ensure you are not going to run out of PPE and sanitary supplies. It may mean that those on the production line are physically farther away from their coworkers than in the past. It may even mean you buy picnic tables and umbrellas so people can eat outside rather than in the lunchroom.
Concerning PPE, you can set an inventory alert for when PPE supplies are running low. It may mean that you begin to track how PPE is being used by team, location, and sub-location. Maintenance managers may need to emphasize the COVID-19, as well as the industry, standards of care, and prioritize tasks to ensure health and safety compliance-related repairs and preventive maintenance are job priorities.
Maybe it’s time to ask yourself what elements of the new SOC are simple good practice in the long run? What changes ought to be made as a result?
The standard operating procedures (SOP) that you and your teams adapted to a newly staggered workforce may in fact be working in terms of efficiency and productivity. Maybe it’s time to think about revising all of your SOP as your standards of care are changing also?
Strong leaders are skilled at leading through times of change. What do you need to do to make changes permanent? How do you bring your employees along with you as new processes become accepted standard operating procedures?
Strong leaders initiate change through a continuous improvement process, often referred to as Planning, Doing, Checking, and Acting (PDCA). It’s a cycle that promotes efficiency, effectiveness, and flexibility. And, more than anything, it engages employees and honors their expertise and practices. A good leader employs the PDCA cycle to create and implement changes.
Using PDCA to create standard operating procedures
Businesses must now create a series of standard operating procedures to update their standards of care to include COVID-19 precautions.
The same employee who writes the SOP should work through (do) the procedure as written to make any necessary changes. The author may need to clarify the text and add graphics to increase clarity and ensure compliance.
Once clear, the Standard Operating Procedure is bumped up to other employees and managers who are familiar with the procedures. They check the SOP to make sure it includes all the necessary steps and details and is easy to follow. A complicated step can always be broken into smaller steps and adding useful graphics and photos always helps.
When the SOP is in final draft form, an equipment or process manager should follow the SOP. Again, as with the other steps, additional changes to the SOP should be made now.
After this quality-control review, finalize any necessary changes. Then, if necessary, run the SOP through the company’s approval process, identified in company policy. Also, check to make sure the SOP adheres to any industry and governmental guidelines and then is uploaded. At this point, the new SOP is ready to be put into action.
There's another "A" word to add: Assess. That is after the SOP is put into action, measure its progress, assess its performance and, if necessary, start the cycle again.
To succeed the PDCA needs strong leadership. The Center for Creative Leadership recommends three skills to connect “the process part of change and the people part of change.” Effective leaders concerned with updating and changing standards of care for employees and customers need to communicate, collaborate, and commit.
Successful change leaders who explain the purpose of the change and connect it to the organization’s values or explain the benefits get stronger employee buy-in for the change. The key word here is transparency. Be honest with employees and other stakeholders about the changes you’d like to see. Bring employees into your thinking about the changes your organization will undergo. There is nothing worse than being kept in the dark. Try this and you will watch employee anxiety go through the roof. They will be less engaged and more easily drawn off task.
Communicate change. Strong leaders take the time to understand workers’ experiences, providing time for workers to test out new processes and procedures on their own and through training opportunities that allow workers to master their new digital environments. Be an effective change leader who is proactive rather reactive (this goes for your maintenance plan as well!).
Lead well by communicating with employees about how what they do contributes to the company’s overall goals and strategy. Sean Williams says, “When employees understand the big picture and how they fit in, they feel valued, listened to and feel like an important part of the team and organization.”
How do we contemplate Standards of Care when we don’t know what’s next? At the very least, leaders can exercise a commitment and the associated values to how they run their businesses and include their workforces in the planning process.
Successful leaders include and engage employees in decision-making early on and throughout the change process. Engage employees in the PDCA cycle.
There’s another reason for collaborating with employees rather than leading by force. Collaborating and engaging creates connection, a word that is being used more and more these days in terms of building a “connected workforce.” In this age of COVID-19, with staggered shifts and physical spacing, connection will be influenced by digital transformations in how we work. It defines how we connect with colleagues when working alongside one another in the same factory or on the same production line. It enables cohesion when in-person collaboration is no longer physically possible or economically feasible. Put simply, your digital transformation should involve tools that empower your frontline team to perform and communicate synchronously.
Successful leaders and top management need to commit and devote their own time to the change effort. They work to ease employee anxiety and provide resources to help them adapt to new challenges. They provide time for employees to learn and master new knowledge and skills, to teach others, and to be rewarded for their engagement, productivity, and excellence. Strong leaders take the time to understand workers’ experiences, providing time for workers to test out new standard operating procedures, for example, on their own and through training opportunities that allow them to master new skills and meet expectations. Be the leader who is proactive rather reactive (this goes for your maintenance plan as well!).
Strong leaders create connection, encourage collaboration, and build community. AS PWC says, leaders of companies need to think about how they can connect their workers to the equipment, information, and processes they handle daily.
At the same time that a change-leadership model engages and empowers workers, we know that leaders in today’s COVID-19 economy also need to increase efficiency and reduce downtime.
The DOWNTIME acronym is part of the Lean (also known as Kaizen) and Six Sigma concepts. They rely on collaboration to increase performance measures, while at the same time removing waste and redundancy. There are eight types of waste to get rid of to maximize efficiency and reduce DOWNTIME. Each of these reductions requires teamwork, leadership, and a standard of care.
Reducing downtime is possible while increasing a company’s standard of care. And today’s real-world and large-scale problems demand it. The best and most lasting organizational change happens when there is a recognizable need for change, when employees are invited to engage in the change, and when leadership is transparent and builds trust. As we reopen, employees can expect new health and safety protocols that will prioritize training, physical distancing, availability of PPE, and sanitation and hygiene standard operating procedures. How we choose to make such changes permanent and the success of such changes will define your leadership.