Workplace Safety: Best Foot Forward in 2021

Dr. Kevan Orvitz, Contributor

Our workforce is living in strange but critical times. For many in North America, coming out of the 2020-2021 holiday season was quite different than other years. The urgency of holiday hours, coupled with time spent away from family and friends, has been an adjustment—especially as we head into all the uncertainty brought on by the year ahead

The food processing industry, for example, has been a critical player throughout the pandemic, supplying products and services to essential businesses and a key partner in keeping many businesses afloat—local and global alike. Despite its essential nature, the industry has unfortunately appeared in many headlines over the course of 2020, due to COVID-19 outbreaks at warehouses and food processing plants. Workers spending long hours in enclosed indoor spaces in close proximity to others has heightened the risk of exposure and infection.

With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, many healthcare professionals are cautiously optimistic that this year looks like the beginning of the end of the pandemic. But, now more than ever, it is imperative that we do not drop the ball on the well-being of our essential workers in the food processing industry.

For employees that work long hours in high-risk environments, COVID-19 precautions and ergonomic safety actions are intrinsically connected. As the expression goes, one has nothing if they don’t have their health; this is especially true this year, where essential workers are trying hard to do their jobs effectively—without bringing the virus home. As frontline workers continue to await the vaccine rollout, here are some vital health and safety recommendations for helping essential industry workers get through this critical next year ahead.

Lead by Example: Clear & Concise

Such times can be draining, and a combined emphasis on mental and physical health is crucial for keeping workers safe and healthy on the floor, as well as keeping spirits up. When colleagues are not fatigued at work and feel good about themselves, their work performance undoubtably improves. Studies have shown an undeniable link between workers’ day-to-day health and overall company success.

Here is what employees in leadership can do: Set an industry example. Work hard to be the employer that encourages a proper break when employees are not on the floor. With a repetitive industry, such as food processing, employees can be at high risk of musculoskeletal diseases, which can irreversibly destroy the body over long periods of time. To mitigate burnout, remind employees to take their allotted break time; go for a walk; as well as hydrate, stretch and allow their bodies to move differently than they have over their shifts. Activities such as yoga can easily be done outside during down time. This offers a chance to correct muscles that have been overworking in the same position on the floor for too long.

Provide & Promote Proper PPE

Using adequate PPE is also more crucial than ever, with an emphasis on how to wear and continue to use them properly while working. Whether using gloves, face shields for extra protection or mask string adjusters to keep masks properly on the face, reminding colleagues and staff to wear PPE on the floor not only mitigates risk of the virus, but acts as a visual to help employees feel safer around one another. When updates are made to CDC and OSHA safety guidelines, company leaders should maintain a clear and concise message to all employees and supply reminder emails, as well as visual signage of health and safety standards.

Best Foot Forward

Going back to employees’ risk of contracting musculoskeletal diseases, the industry does not place enough emphasis on foot safety, which is multifold in nature. Not only are industrial, assembly line-type workers more susceptible to these problems, but their likelihood of obtaining short- and long-term foot issues significantly increase when proper footwear PPE is not incorporated into floor working environments.

Particularly in the COVID-19 climate, previously standard industry safety practices, such as standing on rubber floor mats, can be costly in the long term. Mats are less effective than properly fitted foot insoles, and they can restrict ergonomically safe movement and are not conducive for longer working hours brought on by the pandemic. Also, floor mats do not encourage adequate social distancing of 6ft apart. Thus, the increase of danger to employees is coupled with higher chances of infection and further COVID-19 outbreaks at factories and plants when relying solely on mats for ergonomic protection.

To mitigate these risks, employers can invest in anti-fatigue insoles for their teams. Remind employees to wear the adequate insoles that are fitted properly to their shoes and make such wear part of their daily lives. Foot comfort is a vital part of the job, because it translates to employees’ health outside working hours.

When we commit to the health and safety of our employees, we can see not only a larger company return on investment and overall time-savings—we also see happier, fulfilled employees and higher retainment levels. It’s a win-win situation when employers invest in employees’ overall comfort and movement. Company leaders and floor managers should emphasize the ongoing importance of this throughout the pandemic.

As we hope to near the end of the pandemic’s finish line soon, industry needs to adapt quickly to the increasing demands. Essential work can only continue to be its most productive and effective if we maintain a united front and not just talk about health and safety in the workplace—but show employees that we care. IHW

About the Author

Dr. Kevan Orvitz, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, is Founder & President of MEGAComfort Inc.
Dr. Orvitz’s revolutionary ergonomic designs have paved the way for employees to experience enhanced comfort, decreased pain and fatigue—helping to create a safer, more productive workplace.

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