By RSK’s International Projects Group
Today marks World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which is celebrated on 28 April each year. The International Labour Organization started recognising the day in 2003 to “stress the prevention of accidents and diseases at work”. The last year, however, has put the concept of working safely into a whole new light.
In RSK’s International Projects Group (IPG), we are accustomed to working all over the world and are used to facing many health and safety challenges as we do so. However, this year brought novel challenges. Very quickly, we had to adjust our working practices to keep ourselves, our clients and the communities we work with safe. Like almost everyone, we had to become accustomed to working from home and staying in touch remotely.
Reflecting on the last year and how it has altered our working practices, we asked some of our team members to share their thoughts.
Fraser Wilkinson, Graduate Consultant, on working from home:
“I was still quite new when this all started; I’d only just passed my 6-month probation! Very quickly, I was working from home and having to get used to a new set-up. I was able to get my desk equipment home and make my set-up as comfortable as possible. I missed the social contact of the office, but there have been some positives too. I was able to use the extra time available in lockdown to educate myself and get a professional qualification, and the whole team was really good at staying in touch and looking out for one another.”
Kester Boardman, Associate Director, on managing fieldwork in Albania remotely:
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we acted as a lender’s independent environmental and social consultant to assess the environmental and social performance of a proposed new solar-power-plant project in Albania. Travel restrictions meant that our UK-based team was not able to visit the site or meet the client’s team in person. To overcome the challenges, we worked closely with our local Albanian partners, who were able to visit the site on our behalf, and we modified our audit approach to use a series of shorter, topic-specific web meetings over a few weeks, instead of the larger group meetings that would normally be scheduled to explore a range of topics over a couple of days. This approach led to an extended delivery time, but it was successful and empowered our local partners, minimised travel, and most importantly, reduced the risk of spreading COVID-19.”
Katrina Cooper, Director, on managing fieldwork in Greece and Bulgaria remotely:
“Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on international travel came into force, we were asked to audit the construction of the Gas Interconnector Greece–Bulgaria pipeline on behalf of the European Investment Bank that is part-funding the project. The planned visits by UK-based experts were replaced by visits from local experts and meetings with the client and contractor were held virtually. The local experts have proved very capable and the client and contractor have cooperated to make the virtual meetings work. The schedule for each audit was extended to enable the meetings to happen before the site visits and to give time for the local experts to report back to RSK before the audit close-out meetings were held. While the RSK ex-pat leads regret that they have not had the chance to see the pipeline and to discuss items in person, two audits have been completed successfully.”
In addition to maintaining regular communication with clients and local partners, it was important to maintain communication and morale among the team members to ensure everyone’s well-being. As a team, we already had a strong focus on talking to each other and checking in regularly, and this was brought to the fore by the situation we were in. In order to involve everyone and boost morale, we held online socials, including quizzes and a ‘two truths and a lie’ game. We even took part in some Christmas singing!
While the challenges we faced may have initially seemed daunting, we have learned a lot over the past year, and these are lessons that will stay with us long into the future.
Today is a good opportunity to reflect on some of these lessons and to share our experience of the pandemic and how it has enhanced our already high standards of safety and health at work.