“Safety” has dominated the “Health & Safety” conversation for decades but have organisations and professionals largely neglected the “Health” element of their work. Having the word “Health” in any job title became a nice thing for companies to associate themselves with but, in reality, very few actually looked past what it really really meant.
As some people now start to scream uncontrollably and throw items of stationary at the computer screen, the reality is that the “health” element of the job description has had a very narrow focus. This focus has been so narrow in fact that the title should be renamed in most cases as “Preventative Injury & Safety Manager. Of course we are not in any way undermining the good work of our overworked and underpaid friends in that space, we are however trying to encourage further debate in the sector.
This old school “health and Safety” phenomenon is rapidly changing as employers start to acknowledge the huge financial benefits of being proactive about the “health” of their workforce. This has massive implications for the health & safety sector and those working within it.
Of course, no one is to blame for this phenomenon. Organisations in the past were almost exclusively focused on the physical risks of injury or death. Colleges that trained all our fine professionals were really no different, as anything other than physical injury or death, suddenly became a HR issue.
HR is no more qualified to deal with these issues than health & safety, but the reality is that neither department operating independently is capable of dealing with what’s hurtling down the track. Having held some form of responsibility for Health & Safety for nigh on 25 years, in my opinion, “health” is much more of a “health and safety” issue than it is about people management or HR.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease globally every 15 seconds. This amounts to 6,300 deaths daily and 2.3m per annum. Of course when we first hear these type of statistics, we think of falls, collapses, and all the tangible elements, but what about the following supporting evidence from the HSE in the UK:
In 2014/15, 23.3 million days were lost due to work-related ill health and 4.1 million due to workplace injuries.
Come again! Almost six times, that’s right six times, the amount of days were lost to work related ill health as opposed to workplace injuries. I appreciate that up to now workplace injuries may have carried higher court awards and that’s where the corporate focus has been, but the world is changing fast and companies are adopting quicker than ever before.
Of course you won’t start to see six times as many new “Health Managers” as the traditional “Health & Safety Managers”, but it does now pose the question of how this impacts on the industry and on those working in it.
I believe that the best people to help build a “Health” culture are those that have built a “Safety” culture. They have been through the pain, they have learned the mistakes, and they have learned the hard ways of driving a safety culture in every level of an organisation. They have some invaluable experiences and are a key part of building the workplace of the future. Only if HR and Health & Safety collaborate will the initiatives be successful.
The two main drivers of lost days in the UK (and Ireland is rarely different) are: (a) Stress, depression or anxiety and (b) musculoskeletal disorders. What’s really shocking is that they accounted for 9.9 and 9.5 million days respectively. Now tell me the last time that the typical “Health & Safety Manager” was allowed to focus at least half their time on a health and safety topic that is responsible for the most lost work days? I would say “never” comes to mind.
Most Health & Safety Managers would in fact say that they aren’t qualified to deal with those intangible health matters, and they would be right. Others would say that they don’t want to deal with it as it wasn’t what they signed up for, they would be right too. Others will of course embrace the topic if they so choose. Either way the role itself is changing and those operating in that space need to be aware of the trends, opportunities and risks.
The average days lost per case for stress, depression or anxiety (23 days) was higher than for musculoskeletal disorders (17 days).
Of course this isn’t just some fad or academic tripe either. Unipart Group, one of Europe’s leading private manufacturing, logistics and consultancy companies recently was recognised for its Unipart WorkWell employee wellbeing programme, which encourages and supports employees to lead healthier lives. The programme consists of a wide range of initiatives – from personal health checks to mental health awareness training and a 24-hour staff helpline – and has resulted in lower absence rates, a year-on-year increase in employee engagement levels and estimated savings so far of £330,000.
To put this in an Irish and European context (don’t mention the BREXIT), the Irish Examiner in October 2015 reported on a study on work-related stress from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. It stated that stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe, after musculoskeletal disorders.
So where is the future? Well a recent study by The Lancet followed the lives of over a million people during an 18-year-period. This study has found that for those who sat for at least eight hours daily and exercised for less than five minutes, mortality rates were 9.9%. This compared with 6.8% for those who sat for less than four hours a day and were active for at least one hour a day. We all know the huge payouts that are given for physical injuries in the workplace, even to individuals that are at times dubious. In really it is now not that far off the mark to imagine someone’s family suing a corporate for not advising their relative of the dangers of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day!!. I never like quoting American Studies but a recent report compiled evidence from 228 other studies and was assimilated by researchers at Harvard Business School and Stanford University. This found that high job demands increased the odds of having a medically diagnosed illness by 35%. Long work hours increased the chances of early death by almost 20%.
The dots are being joined on a daily basis and as “Health & Safety Manager” there is much more of an onus to be proactive on the intangible “Health” element of the role. Office Ergonomics assessment & training is a mandatory requirement in Ireland but yet it is not widely adopted or enforced. Courses in this space advise employees to take regular breaks and whilst they are widely used to fight claims in areas such as repetitive strain injury, it could also go a long way to mitigating costs in other “health” related court cases. By the way you can buy your online courses here.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 40% of all workers today feel overworked, pressured, and squeezed to the point of anxiety, depression, and disease. Isn’t it interesting that those statements are now being issued by a Safety & Health body! About 12 months ago, dulann were asked to build a “Colleague Awareness” eLearning course, but in all our years, it is the first one we were asked to complete. Now though we are getting those enquiries every month. Another sign of the times.
This month (October 2016), the world is expecting the publication of the new worldwide safety and health standard (ISO 45001). Designed to improve work environments and reduce workplace deaths, it is yet another sign of the changing world that we live in as one of the main objectives is “to minimise OSH risk to all those working on its behalf (including to their mental and physical health)”. Although it mightn’t get launched during the expected timeframe, this is seen as a milestone in the health and safety industry.
So to make a long story short; Employee physical health, mental health and general wellbeing are going to play a much larger role in the workplace of the future, and those tasked with managing it.
Dulann is a provider of technology-enabled learning solutions for many of the world’s leading organisations. Services include Product & Process Simulations, Contractor Inductions & Employee Onboarding, Mandatory & Commercial Training, Contractor Management & Learning Management Systems.