June 6, 2020

COVID-19 Prompts Development of New Training for Essential, Returning Workers

By Kay Bechtold

The ongoing pandemic has created a need for new training as workers, supervisors, managers, and others navigate workplaces in the time of COVID-19. It has also changed the way that training is traditionally delivered. In many cases, face-to-face training must now be conducted remotely using virtual platforms. In a Wednesday morning session held online as part of AIHce EXP, presenters discussed safely returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Rosen, MS, CIH, FAIHA, provided an overview of new training tools developed by the National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training and intended for workers in industries with the potential for exposure to COVID-19. The National Clearinghouse is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Worker Training Program.

Rosen, who works for the National Clearinghouse, focused on the Essential and Returning Workers Training Tool, a four-hour, awareness-level program intended to help protect essential workers and workers in reopening industries from infection and to stop the spread of the virus. Rosen stressed that an awareness course alone is not adequate and that trainers should tailor the course to meet the needs of their specific industry or site.

The tool seeks to teach participants about the risk factors for work-related exposure to COVID-19, workers’ rights related to health and safety in the workplace, and strategies for protecting mental health during the pandemic. Rosen emphasized the training tool’s section on worker rights.

“There’s been a lot of concerns about the role of OSHA and some of the guidelines coming from CDC, which are contradictory,” Rosen said. “And there’s been a number of strikes and other concerns—reports to the police or health departments when social distancing and other protections are not being implemented.”

The training tool encourages workers to have a voice, Rosen noted. A hallmark of an effective safety and health program, he said, is “to give rank-and-file workers a voice so that if they see something, they will say something.” Programs should encourage workers to speak up and follow up to ensure that actions are taken to correct items raised by the workers, Rosen continued.

The training course’s final module on mental health covers self-care and stress management, which Rosen stressed as valuable topics to cover during worker training on COVID-19. He also recommended another program developed by NIEHS on resilience, which is intended to teach workers to bounce back from stress and trauma.

Kay Bechtold is managing editor of The Synergist.