By Jaime Vos, AEM Safety Materials Program Director

Evolution of Safety MessageI read a safety-related cartoon the other day in which the astonished main character tells his friend:  "And just like that, everyone knew what PPE stood for."

The humor wasn't lost on me.

Being in the equipment manufacturing industry, I know that safety professionals are always communicating best practices and the latest procedures for employee safety. But given the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency of the safety message has evolved to a whole new level. The importance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has come to the forefront and demanded that everyone take notice.

Employers, many of whom already had safety guidelines in place for their workers, scrambled to comply with the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. While safety has always been a priority for most companies, management teams had to quickly adjust to a steep learning curve: airborne dangers, skin contact, disinfecting protocol, and social distancing applied to everyone, not just a few select industries. Human resources departments worked overtime to quickly publish new procedures to ensure employee safety.

Over the past few years, I've seen an increase in the number of safety professionals within my social and business network. Many of them will share their latest insights and published reports so industries benefit as a whole. I've always considered myself blessed that I work in a field that doesn't compete for market share. Safety is for the good of everyone, and we should all work together to promote best practices. We promote safety not to gain a business advantage, but simply because it's the right thing to do.

Over the past few months, the one thing that has impressed me the most is the speed at which the safety message has evolved. A number of available online safety resources and materials were published almost overnight. Safety signage, rules, and regulations were immediately made available – not only just to those of us who are in the industry, but also to the general public as well. And even though there was a shortage of PPE for healthcare workers in the beginning, many companies rose to the challenge and pivoted their manufacturing processes to make face shields, masks and other much needed items during those crucial first weeks.

It’s often said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” I have to believe that is true in this case. The COVID-19 pandemic demanded that the safety message be a priority, that it evolve quickly on a global scale, and that it be communicated urgently to meet the seriousness of the event.

While safety awareness should always be priority in any industry, the messages will continue to evolve as global circumstances change. We must all do our part in remaining vigilant to the cause. Even though PPE is now a term known by everyone on the planet, there is a danger in complacency. The importance of safety must remain at the forefront. Employers and employees alike must do their part to watch out for one another and do everything they can to make the work site as hazard-free as possible.

The safety message is no longer just something folks talk about in meetings or post on the employee bulletin board. It is now something we must take personally. It has evolved, and will continue to evolve, as a critical part of how we now act globally. It is an everyday, living and breathing awareness that we all must own, advocate and effectively communicate. Safety is up to all of us, and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to create safer work environments.

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