In normal times, much of occupational health professionals’ focus is on proactive and preventative measures including a range of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and company mandated programs to protect employees. But these are not normal times. Along with most of aspects of our lives, the role of occupational health has changed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the role of occupational health has expanded to include developing policies to combat the spread of the virus and to prepare organizations for an eventual reopening. Working alongside medical teams, IT departments and other relevant community stakeholders, occupational health professionals are now tasked with finding ways to better protect their organizations once in recovery mode and employees begin to return to work.
For example, a closer partnership with IT departments and experts may be required to leverage technology to solve problems in workplace health, such as developing systems or platforms to track symptoms and exposure to help contain the spread in the future. From a clinical perspective, measures will need to be taken to manage those who have COVID-related symptoms, such as issuing guidance on self-isolation, conducting medical risk-assessments and starting contact tracing to guide return-to-work decision making.
Meanwhile, occupational health teams will need to maintain treatment of work-related injuries and illnesses, including those employees who provide essential services and are at risk of exposure. Simply put, these professionals are now being tasked with balancing these prior responsibilities while maintaining a new focus on the COVID-19 response.
Longer term changes to the role may now include more education around the importance of staying home when sick, particularly given the wide range of illness caused by COVID-19 – from minimal or no symptoms to severe symptoms. The occupational health profession will likely aggressively highlight how interconnected we all are and that our practices can impact others in significant ways.
Growing Need for Occupational Health Screeners.
Even prior to the pandemic, occupational health and safety jobs were growing at a rate higher than most occupations. In fact, jobs for occupational safety and health are expected to grow over 10% through 2026, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Meanwhile, there is evidence of a “graying” of these professionals and more occupational health professionals retire.
It’s likely the COVID-19 will create an even greater demand for these professionals. We continue to see a demand for occupational therapists, occupational medicine physicians and other occupational professionals. However, the greatest demand during this time is for occupational health screeners to determine if employees are ready to go back to work.
As the country continues to slowly “reopen,” more workers are making their way back to the workplace alongside those “essential” workers who have never left. While the notion that U.S. employers would conduct broad-based temperature screening of workers would have seemed unthinkable, the realities of COVID-19 are altering the workplace for now.
Given the encouragement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and some state and local governments, and in light of the blessing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), more employers are now considering the implementation of daily temperature screenings before entering the workplace.
We have experienced a dramatic increase in demand from clients who are classified as essential businesses to post 1 to 3 temperature screeners outside the designated entrance for all employees and vendors. This process entails a temperature check and the completion of a CDC-based questionnaire prior to entry. Any worker who fails to meet the standard is directed to call a company-designated employee to determine their next steps. We have ramped up our recruitment efforts for these professionals in light of this need.