World Day for Safety and Health at Work: Establishing resilient Health and Safety practices for employees

28 April, 2021

Today (28 April) is the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, an initiative that is more important than ever following the health challenges faced during the past 12 months. This year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is promoting learning developed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and investing in resilient health and safety systems, which includes focussing on occupational health. Associate health and safety consultant James Hymers gives an industry perspective and reflects on this year’s campaign theme of resilience.

A majority of people can relate to new challenges presented by working from home or an uncertain professional future, with the sufficient provision of occupational health at the core of the problem. In September 2020, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) wrote to the UK government outlining how occupational safety should be supported, the adjustments needed, and the funding and regulation required. However, these concerns have to be reviewed on a regular basis and annual initiatives, such as this one, help to maintain an awareness of potential crises.

In some ways, the pandemic has been valuable in revealing the impact mankind’s activities have on the planet and has allowed many to reconnect with the natural elements of life. However, at times I consume the daily news and wonder with a sense of unease at what sort of world our children will inherit. It is with this thought that the theme of resilience seems a perfect focus for the year of 2021.

I believe an important question is: when do we know we are resilient? How does one accurately test resilience? We very often address issues at hand, but do we ever truly prevent reoccurrence and build resilience further?

As part of my role in the construction industry, I have the responsibility of ensuring that health and safety practices benefit from the same longevity as other future-based planning such as social value.

Whether it is the ability for a nation or an individual to bounce back, it gives a sense of opportunity and excitement when we begin to consider this in greater detail. From building brand-new, state-of-the-art hospitals to Passivhaus residential properties, we work to develop healthy buildings for our communities, but the built environment also needs to move forward with a lifestyle and way of working that promotes a healthy mind and body overall.

For many years now we have seen the statistics on health and work-related illness, and whilst we focus on ensuring people go home ‘safe’, how are we working to make sure our people are ‘well’?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, £16.2 billion was the estimated cost of injuries and ill health in Great Britain (excluding long-latency illnesses) in 2018/19. The Health at a Glance Report 2016 stated that disability and sick leave across Europe accounts for 1.7 per cent of GDP. These figures demonstrate the huge effects ill health has on a country – and therefore its economy – and the opportunity to improve people’s lives who are unable to work or require assistance.

Sadly, the pandemic does not appear to have improved these statistics. The recent Working at Home Wellbeing Study from The Institute for Employment Studies showed an increase of musculoskeletal pain and stress – with over half of respondents noting increased issues.

There are many potential causes of this, but lockdown, the requirement for people to work remotely, and the ability of organisations to provide suitable equipment in the home environment are large factors at play. As we now move forward with new ways of working, one priority must be how we support healthy working and healthy lifestyles so that we can live long and healthy lives.

I believe one key aspect that the pandemic has shown and demonstrated is the emerging need for individuals to be better equipped to deal with the non-occupational hazards that we face. For example, taking time to go to a gym for physical exercise, taking time to relax and unwind, and finding ways of dealing with stress and anxiety that best suit the individual. There are many ways employers can support people with this and there will be greater opportunity for occupational health and safety professionals to support organisations in the future.

In many respects, it is necessary to reflect and learn from the past. However, it is more likely that by looking at emerging technology and combining it with initiatives and policies that promote healthy living and employee welfare will have a more significant impact. In doing so, we can be sure that we are investing in a workforce that is resilient and able to continue doing what they enjoy for longer.

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