Many of those responsible for the lives of their colleagues and clients through their working day have been effectively laid off for a period of months and unable to practice their individual and team skills.

This will include pilots and flight crews, many doctors and nurses, whose elective surgeries have been cancelled, train and bus drivers whose businesses have been operating much reduced services and indeed all those whose work regimes have been impacted by measures taken to contain C-19.

Those whose occupations, or whose industry governing bodies have structured a safe operating environment will at least have the ‘safety management system’ (SMS) in place to provide them and their teams the necessary support to overcome any skills fade, or communications lapses that most likely will occur in the return to work period. Sadly, there are some occupations where the self-imposed economic imperative and lack of penalty, combined with ego, a feeling of infallibility and a lack of an enterprise wide SMS will most likely show noticeable increases in error and harm for a period of time.

Skills fade and muscle memory loss, with a demand for speed and a short-term decline in soft skills, such as team leadership, will combine to create potential incidents and accidents. It is incumbent on those in this position to recognize these issues and take the time necessary to ensure the threat is minimized.

The best of the population will do so, most of the more average operators will do but most of the least capable, perhaps the lowest 10% will most likely not. That is potentially a lot of people who could get it wrong. Many more experienced operatives will have elected to take early retirement so we may be lacking the situational awareness and judgement that was previously available through these now retired key personnel.

Recent reports on the ‘return to work’ have also highlighted the issue of mental health across the population. In the US a recent study reported that up to 45% of the population may have been adversely affected mentally by the unusual and constrained lives we have all been forced to endure. In the UK too many of those who would normally have been receiving treatment for existing mental health issues have not been able to access the care they needed. That is likely to be the case across most advanced healthcare systems and economies.

Many of us, our co-workers, have suffered the loss of loved ones and will not have been able to support them as we would like or to grieve as we need. Many may be in the process of experiencing this.

What will all of this mean for the safety critical workforce?

There will be many conflicting demands on all of us as we begin the very necessary process of starting up the economy and our parts of it, and we will all be in a hurry to do so. As enterprises though we must do so with even more care than usual; let us hope that both we and those who lead safety critical enterprises realize this.