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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



Safeguard Magazine

Crafting for resilience

Crafting H&S jobs to create resilience throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has benefits for the organisation and the practitioner, report TRISTAN CASEY, XIAOWEN HU and CHIA-HUEI WU.

It is an understatement that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption. Not only have our personal lives been changed, perhaps irrevocably, through travel restrictions and lockdowns, but also our working lives.

Covid has also introduced new health and safety challenges that must be navigated to ensure continued compliance with legislation and to safeguard employees while at work. Remote and lone working, blurred work/home life boundaries, changes to the way work is designed and done, and potential conflicts between Covid safety and employee safety are just some of the H&S challenges conveyed by the pandemic.

Considering these challenges, H&S professionals have leveraged opportunities to adjust their jobs to help organisations adapt and increase resilience during the pandemic. Indeed, flexibility and improvisation are key concepts that resilience engineers propose help build adaptive capacity (adjust to potential harm, take advantage of opportunities and respond to incidents). Without the innovation of H&S professionals, the impact of the pandemic would arguably be even more disruptive and widespread.

But what did H&S professionals do to create resilience during the pandemic? What were the experiences that triggered adaptation and improvisation in their jobs? We conducted a programme of mixed methods research, drawing on four waves of interviews with 25 safety managers during 2020, as well as a survey of 314 Australian H&S professionals. Not only did this research unveil specific challenges faced by H&S professionals, it also uncovered the types of job crafting activities they undertook to adjust and adapt their roles to meet the demands of these challenges.

 PROMOTION-FOCUSED JOB CRAFTINGPREVENTION-FOCUSED JOB CRAFTING
RelationalExpanding internal networks with other employees.Avoiding situations where one has to engage with unfamiliar employees.
TaskGiving employees non-mandatory training to enhance their safety capabilities.Clear away less important tasks/duties to reduce overall workload.
CognitiveThinking about how one’s role contributes to the organisation’s resilience and crisis response.Thinking about which aspects of the role are most important to avoid legal prosecution or liability.

THREE KEY THEMES

During the pandemic, three core themes emerged from our research:

  • • 
    managing uncertainty in standards and regulations surrounding protective measures;
  • • 
    managing role and work overload; and
  • • 
    balancing tensions between different forms of safety, such as between Covid safety and operational safety.

Managing uncertainty in regulations

Initially, the flow of information from governments was slow and erratic, hindering H&S professionals, who quickly found themselves elevated to the role of subject matter expert in pandemic and crisis response. Rapid pace of change in government guidance and regulations characterised the early stages of the pandemic.

Role overload

Not only did H&S professionals have to continue their management of “regular” safety, but also add to their role through pandemic-specific management activities. Within the context of rapidly changing information, they found themselves in the middle as a conduit between the government, management, and the workforce.

Managing tensions

Sometimes, Covid-19-related safety requirements and activities diverted resources and attention away from employee safety (ie the core safety requirements of doing the work). Further, reduced fiscal performance and outlook caused many organisations to sharply reduce safety-related expenditure related to regular operational tasks and strategic projects.

THE ORGANISATIONAL RESPONSE

Organisations seemed to respond to the pandemic in one of two ways: marginalising and “sidelining” H&S professionals, or alternatively, empowering them through involvement and collaboration.

Although our survey research suggests that only a minority (13%) of H&S professionals experienced marginalisation, importantly for organisations where this occurred there was a missed opportunity to leverage the value of these experts. Specifically, in some organisations, H&S professionals were regarded as “non-essential” workers so were prevented from engaging with staff who continued to work on-site. Others were not included in the crisis management/response team, while others reported concerns about diversion of funds away from corrective actions and strategic projects and towards business operations.

Alternatively, and reassuringly, most H&S professionals reported having a key role in pandemic planning and response. In these organisations, 41% of respondents said that management support for safety was significantly better, 45% said their status and influence was enhanced, and 51% indicated that the value and importance of H&S was elevated. Empowered H&S professionals were significantly more willing to go “above and beyond” their position descriptions, engaging in logistics and procurement activities as well as acting as a line of defence for management decisions regarding downsizing and organisational change.

WHAT IS JOB CRAFTING?

During the pandemic, H&S professionals responded to the challenges by job crafting. Job crafting refers to practices that enable employees to use opportunities to redesign their jobs by actively changing tasks and interactions with other colleagues.

It can be either prevention- or promotion-oriented: prevention job crafting aims to decrease hindering job demands and withdraw from or reduce challenging tasks, whereas promotion job crafting aims to increase job resources and approach stimulating job demands. Job crafting can also be done across three different domains: relationships, tasks, and cognition or thinking about work.

Importantly, over 80% of H&S professionals reported engaging in a constructive form of promotion-oriented job crafting, expanding their relationships with stakeholders inside and outside the organisation, thinking positively about their contributions to the organisation, and upskilling themselves independently of formal training and development opportunities.

We also found that organisational empowerment can promote H&S professionals to engage in more job crafting to cope with the challenge.

ADAPTATION, IMPROVISION

Crisis situations require adaption and improvisation. Throughout the pandemic, organisations that have supported and empowered their H&S professionals have benefited greatly from the role expansions and redesigns that these employees have voluntarily engaged in.

Health and safety professionals have also personally benefited, with those staff who feel supported and empowered experiencing greater sense of positive job meaning, reduced job insecurity, and decreased emotional exhaustion.

However, many organisations have yet to realise the positive benefits of a proactive job crafting strategy. One of the lessons we can learn from the pandemic is how empowered H&S professionals can add great value and help organisations to exit from crisis situations easier.

DR TRISTAN W CASEY is a lecturer with the Safety Science Innovation Lab at Griffith University. DR XIAOWEN HU is a senior lecturer in HR management at Queensland University of Technology. PROFESSOR CHIA-HUEI WU is director of the Workplace Behaviour Research Centre at the University of Leeds.

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