As business disruption continues across the globe the Australian Government continues to manage both the health and economic crisis in Australia. Many businesses are adapting to new ways of working while others have closed either temporarily or permanently. This is true for the charity sector as well with a number of not-for-profit organisations unable to operate, others adapting to remote delivery of services and others seeing an increase in demand whilst also managing a decrease in volunteers.
For charities who continue to operate in a physical environment it is more important than ever to manage work health and safety risks. Effectively managing the risks will not only help keep you operating but also allow your workers and volunteers to feel safe. With demand for services increasing it will be a challenge to manage meeting demand and the safety of workers, and you do not have the luxury of time to learn new ways of working. There will no doubt be mistakes along the way but if you adapt quickly your workers will value your attention to their health and safety.
The following tips are aimed to assist charities operating in a physical environment during the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you are experiencing an increase in demand you are no doubt finding it challenging to maintain social distancing rules in addition to making the time to add safety procedures such as regularly sanitising workspaces. Under normal conditions a dusty work table is not as important as a line of people in need but right now it is critical. to enable you the time to add safety procedures whilst still meeting demand, consider how you can rationalise the work being done. For example, if you are packing food hampers can you rationalise the different items in the hamper, limit the hours available for collection and delivery and clearly explain to stakeholders why these measures are in place so you do not end up with workers being interrupted with questions. You can also use your communications channels and social media to advise stakeholders to be quick when interacting with you - whether this be collecting items, dropping items off or interacting in other ways.
Despite the focus on flattening the curve Covid-19 has proven difficult to manage. Maintaining and enforcing safety precautions, especially with a constantly changing workforce, to completely mitigate the risk is near to impossible. That said, charities need to be creating and communicating clear standards for sanitising workspaces, warehouses and trucks; social distancing; personal protection and handwashing. It will be important to look regularly for any signs of illness in workers and make sure all workers are clear of the need to stay home if they are unwell. Constant reminders, including prominent signs in the workplace, will make sure everyone is clear.
If you have a regular face to face meeting, perhaps to kick off the workday, move to a different mode of communication or create smaller groups and ensure indoor social distancing rules are applied. Leaders need to be fully versed with the safety procedures and be vigilant in constantly checking they are being conducted. You may need to appoint a safety manager for each shift to oversee the safety procedures. Anyone in charge of safety needs to conform to strong standards and empowered to ensure they are followed.
Limit who is able to enter your premises. Only those workers needed should be there as this will minimise risk and allow greater worker to square metre capacity to undertake the critical work your charity does. Everyone entering your premises should wash their hands at an outdoor station before entering and stay the designated distance apart from others once inside. Every worker should be empowered to ask others to keep their distance to ensure social distancing practices are adhered to.
The Coronavirus will require new work processes which do not have the luxury of time to test and practice them. Continuous improvement to improve your processes, both safety and efficiency, will be an ongoing necessity. We have seen this occurring across various sectors already in Australia with doctors seeing patients in their car parks, cafes now delivering fruit and vegetable boxes and McDonalds selling milk and bread via the drive through. Demonstrating to your workers, and your stakeholders, that you are agile to adjust to improve safety and efficiency will be critical for your charity.
If your charity is experiencing an increase in demand or a larger number of last minute notifications of workers being unavailable it is best to plan for more resources each shift than you actually need. This will give you the agility to meet demand even when people make themselves unavailable with late notice. Anticipating higher demand will also reduce the stress on your workforce and in turn minimise errors and lapses in adhering to the critical safety standards. Charities may need to consider re-purposing roles or re-tasking workers to tasks that are most urgent.
You may need to add a manager to ensure there are sufficient leaders to direct the additional workers and oversee safety protocols. Consider reviewing any current processes which slow down workflow or increasing delegations to managers to improve efficiencies.
Despite your efforts in minimising risks and maintaining worker safety during the pandemic, workers will most likely feel they are potentially putting themselves at risk. This may be even more prevalent with volunteer workers who receive no financial compensation or benefit for doing so. Showing even more respect than you already do to your workers will go a long way to helping them feel valued and knowing you have their health as your foremost focus.
Prioritise worker safety over all else. Ensure workers have the resources (eg. hand sanitiser, gloves) needed to maintain their health and for them to know their work environment is safe.