Top 5 Workplace Safety Trends for 2021

Top 5 Workplace Safety Trends for 2021

By Tricia O'Connor

Employers are investing in employees’ health and workplace safety. Businesses are getting creative with work schedules. And even if some states are getting more marijuana-friendly, most workplaces are still saying ‘no’. 

These are just some of the headlines from 2020 that launched the workplace trends we’re keeping an eye on this year. 

Read on to see what made our list. 

The Top Workplace Safety Trends for 2021

This list was borne out of necessity. Originally implemented as temporary fixes during COVID-19, these trends are now being viewed among enterprise organizations as long-term solutions as the pandemic nears a full year. 

1. New Jobs

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports this public health disaster has created a range of roles linked to factors like disease containment or consumer confidence. If 2020 was the year of the ‘contact tracer’, 2021 will be the year of ‘vaccine technician’. Two drugstore chains that secured government contracts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines have already announced plans to hire 35,000 people for the rollout. Job posting site Indeed announced job searches containing the word ‘vaccine’ jumped by 116% in the first week of December. 

Source: MarketWatch

Here are other popular new jobs that will continue to trend upward this year:

Contact tracer – identifies and contacts people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus; provides health guidance and assistance ($17-$25 per hour)

Temperature screener – takes the temperatures of employees and/or guests; may ask survey questions ($14-$25 per hour)

Health monitor / tester – administers COVID-19 tests ($20-$45 per hour)

Safety culture consultant – facilitates workplace physical modifications OR facilitates employee emotional safety reassurances (salary unknown)

Workplace reconfiguration specialist – modifies the layouts of workplaces to encourage physical distancing ($42,000-$53,000 per year)

Workplace safety technician – responsible for installing physical distancing and safety modifications (counter shields, plexiglass dividers, etc.) ($14-$20 per hour)

Virtual expertise roles are also in demand as more work events, conferences, trainings, and networking conventions are held online. Experts who can facilitate these virtual gatherings and coordinate the digital tools needed to pull them off will continue to be a surging profession. The typical salary range is $40,000-$50,000 per year.

2. Health and Safety Solutions

Businesses will need to have a standardized protocol for being able to come to work as COVID-19 continues and the vaccine rollout takes longer than expected. They will need to invest in a comprehensive digital solution that adheres to local and national safety standards, mitigates the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak within the workplace, and reduces the financial impact an outbreak would have. 

It’s not a question anymore ‘if’ businesses need a health and safety solution – that’s been answered by how long this health crisis has dragged on. The question now is how quickly can our business move to adopt a program that successfully protects our employees now and in the future?

“The pandemic has accelerated the need for powerful, easy-to-use digital information tools for employees to have the confidence to return safely to work and for businesses and universities to reopen under safe operating conditions,” says Rick Kurland, CEO of EBI.

A backend program like EBI’s Workplace Health & Safety Solution can take the guesswork out of how to implement a standardized return-to-work protocol. This comprehensive solution provides temperature screeningcontact tracing, social distancing monitoring, and operations and risk management in accordance with CDC guidelines, all in one platform known as the HR Command Center.

Having a risk mitigation and health screening solution in a complete suite helps optimize employee and customer safety while maintaining business operations. You want a program that not only provides easy to follow instructions and guidelines for employees, but also delivers real-time data and information to management. This helps organizations operate as seamlessly as possible while maintaining top-tier safety standards to protect employees, clients, and visitors.

3. Creative Scheduling

The struggles of working parents, shift employees, frontline workers, and healthcare employees have been well documented. You can expect employers to continue using creative staffing strategies to limit workplace fatigue and burnout. Here are four scheduling options we expect employers to deploy this year. 

Flex Time

Flex time is a policy that allows employees to choose their work hours if a traditional nine-to-five workday doesn’t work for them. Employees are still responsible for meeting established goals and productivity output. In some cases, employers may require employees to report to work (even virtually) for specific functions like meetings. About 44% of U.S. employers and organizations offered flex time in 2019.

Compressed Workweeks

A compressed workweek basically squeezes 40 hours of work (the traditional North American model) into fewer days. Long championed by Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson, the idea recaptured businesses’ attention as more employees struggled to balance work and life during the coronavirus.

The most common compression is a 4/10 model, where an employee works four 10-hour days. Another compression is a 9/80 which runs over a two-week cycle and provides employees two three-day weekends a month. 

Rotating Shifts

Rotating shifts, or a hybrid schedule where employees report on alternate days or times to a brick-and-mortar job, are helping workers maintain physical distancing and keep productivity up. Many schools across the country are considering hybrid models to ensure student and teacher safety, and municipal governments are using rotating shifts successfully, too. The idea is to allow employees to report to the office to complete tasks that must be done in person, but to limit interaction between workers.

Flex Pools / Part-Time Work

The importance of part-time workers cannot be underestimated. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports one in six workers is considered part-time, and that was before COVID-19 hit. Part-time employees work less than 40 hours per week and are mostly women and low-wage workers. They are a critical component of the workforce, yet they are particularly susceptible to socioeconomic and healthcare challenges because of the pandemic.

Leveraging a flex pool can help provide relief to overworked part-time employees.

A flex pool is usually considered a group of workers who can step in to provide alternative coverage during a surge in labor demand. Candidates who participate in flex pools often crave flexibility and may not be able to commit to traditional shift lengths or full-time employment. Retirees and stay-at-home parents are often recruited to join flex pools. For tips on how to implement flex pools, click here.

4. A New HR Glossary

HR professionals have moved beyond benefits administration and conflict resolution to become essential frontline workers in their company’s efforts to combat COVID-19. Their learning curve was swift as they were responsible early on for protecting employees but also keeping up with health and safety guidance and regulation that seemed to change every week. Even as this pandemic continues, many HR pros have already turned their eyes and skills toward the next health crisis. One of the first items on their massive to-do lists? Updating employee handbooks and guidelines to include the new glossary of terms team members need to know before they may be recalled to a physical workspace. Here are just some of those terms we all should be familiar with for 2021. 

CDC Symptom Checker – A series of questions a person can answer daily to determine if they’re showing signs of COVID-19 and what, if any, actions they should take. You can find a list of symptoms here, as well as a self-check guide (look for the box that says ‘Self-Checker) to help you make decisions about your symptoms, exposure, and need for care.

Antibody Test – This test looks for antibodies that are made by your immune system in response to a threat, such as a specific virus. Antibodies can take several days or weeks to develop after you have an infection and may stay in your blood for several weeks or more after recovery. Because of this, antibody tests should not be used to diagnose COVID-19. 

Asymptomatic Transmission – When a person who shows no signs of a disease, in this case, COVID-19, transmits it to another person. The original person is infected with the coronavirus but does not display symptoms during their infection and unknowingly infects other people. 

Contact Tracing – The process of identifying people who may have encountered an infected person. Professionals use a symptom date and then track back through incubation time to identify an ‘at risk’ population.

Contact Tracer – A person who identifies and contacts people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus; provides health guidance and assistance.

Diagnostic Test – This shows if you have an active coronavirus infection and should take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others. Currently, there are two types of diagnostic tests – molecular tests that detect the virus’s genetic material, and antigen tests that detect specific proteins from the virus.

Health Monitor / Tester – A person who administers COVID-19 tests.

Temperature Screener – A person who takes the temperatures of employees and/or guests; may ask survey questions.

Thermal Screening – The practice of measuring employees’ temperatures through advanced thermal imaging technology to determine if they can safely enter the workplace. This can be self-administered through a smart thermometer temperature reading application or a thermal entry point scanner. Advanced thermal imaging technology detects a person’s temperature in less than three seconds and has a measurement accuracy of +/- 0.5 degrees F.

Oral Fluid Drug Test – A mouth swab or saliva drug test used to detect substance use within the last 36 hours. They are easy to administer, minimally invasive (no syringes or urine is required), and can be done instantly in person, virtually, or in a lab.

Safety Culture Consultant – A person who facilitates workplace physical modifications and/or facilitates employee emotional safety reassurances.

Viral Shedding – When a virus is released from an infected host. It is necessary to understand how and when a virus can be shed to help mitigate spread

5. Drug Testing

Substance abuse increased dramatically during the pandemic and has remained at elevated levels for months afterward. Drug overdoses rose. People turned to marijuana for comfort.

The reason, experts say, is the link between coinciding mental health issues, an infectious disease outbreak, acute stress and loneliness and boredom, plus the relative flexibility employees have to fill their days at home as they wish (as long as their output remains steady).

Getting high at home is one thing. Continuing that behavior once you’re back in the workplace is dangerous, for you and everyone around you. Here are some of the effects drug use can have on returning workers:

  • Greater risk of a workplace accident
  • Lower productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Higher medical costs

We anticipate employers will update their policy against the use of drugs while working at home or at the workplace. Download “How to Prepare Now for a Drug-Free Post-Pandemic Workplace”, presented by EBI and Current Consulting Group and sponsored by OraSure Technologies, if you’re looking for tips to update your policy.

Revising your drug testing policy also presents an opportunity for employers to evaluate new drug screening solutions – like a breathalyzer for marijuana – that might soon be available.

Current testing methods for marijuana can show whether someone has used within the last 24 hours or up to the last 3 months. A new technology claims to get data from deep in the lungs to measure THC in the breath. Someone who smoked pot will show THC levels for 2 to 3 hours. If they’ve consumed edible marijuana products, they can show impairment for up to 5 hours. As reported in EBI’s Screening News Network, one state has agreed to spend $300,000 over the next year studying the new product from Hound Labs in California.

We’ll Get Through This Together

Understanding the complexities of these workplace safety trends can feel overwhelming, especially as we enter a new year with new goals, demands, and hopes. But with EBI, you are never alone. Our team of health and safety experts, customer care advocates, and unique solutions like our Trusted Advisor Program are always available to our clients.

Let’s head into 2021 together!

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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