Refocusing Attention on Safety: A Call to Action

Published: July 2020, in EHS Today

In May, an explosion at a chemical plant in Porto Marghera, near Venice, Italy, sent clouds of black smoke and flames into the immediate area, injuring two workers and prompting authorities to order residents to shelter in place. Earlier in the month, Styrene leaked from a storage tank Visakhapatnam, India when workers were restarting operations after shutting down for COVID-19, causing 11 deaths and forcing hundreds in the surrounding area to be hospitalized. The following month saw a fire erupt at a plant in the United Kingdom, and though it resulted in no injuries to workers, the facility had to shut down for five days.

These are just a few examples of safety incidents that have occurred around the world in the past few months. It seems that as companies scrambled to address the health risks of COVID-19 in their workplaces, they have not paid attention to other safety risks. Companies need to refocus their attention and ensure all safety risks are managed within the context of the COVID-19 reality.

Risk Accelerators

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted most, if not all, companies to refocus their priorities on ensuring that workplace infection is prevented. But as companies adapted new policies and procedures, and implemented additional measures, other risks were not being adequately managed. The decisions made in response to COVID-19 and the attention demanded by the pandemic accelerated other risks that have always been present, particularly safety risks. These risk accelerators had serious consequences to companies’ bottom lines, employee safety, and surrounding communities.