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Health and safety in a changing world

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A set of six reports, which come after five years of research as part of IOSH’s Health and Safety in a Changing World programme – one of the most ambitious programmes of research ever undertaken into the ways we protect people from ill health and injury in the workplace – has revealed some key findings into the perception of health and safety and the challenges the profession is facing.

The findings include:

  • The safety and health profession can be more confident in sharing its benefits to business and society but more flexible in incorporating new ideas, such as employee ‘workarounds’.
  • Negative perceptions of health and safety appear more associated with ‘public’ than ‘workplace’ issues – members of the public are more supportive of efforts to promote safer workplaces than interventions out of work.
  • The profession is having to adapt to address a variety of challenges presented by a rapidly changing world of work, from managing transient workforces to supporting smaller businesses that suspect ‘gold-plating’ by practitioners of their safety and health policies and practices.

The reports include:

  • The changing landscape of OSH regulation in the UK
  • The changing legitimacy of health and safety at work, 1960-2015
  • Occupational safety and health in networked organisations
  • Networks of influence: practising safety leadership in low-hazard environments (LHEs)
  • OSH knowledge and its management
  • Engagement of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in occupational safety and health

They can be downloaded here.

Commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), research teams conducted the six studies to shed new light on modern-day worker protection at a time when health and safety has been lambasted in sections of the media and become the subject of reviews into its regulatory frameworks.

The findings of IOSH’s five year programme – Health and Safety in a Changing World – give fresh insight into the role safety and health is now playing in a world of transient or disparate workforces, automated production and economic and political uncertainty.

IOSH executive director of policy Shelley Frost said: “It is clear from our research that the modern-day safety and health practitioner faces multifarious challenges in their vital work to safeguard working people.

“Businesses, politicians and the media are posing questions of the profession and the system in which its members work, asking whether we need current levels of regulation and whether practitioners are being overzealous in their recommendations to employers.

“However, it is evident that safety and health is a stable system that is valued by business and the public at large. People do care that they and their loved ones are not placed in unnecessary risk at work. Our research programme underlines the need for the safety and health profession to be agile and open-minded in the face of change, and more confident in promoting the very many positive contributions it makes to our lives.”

IOSH’s five-year research programme set out to explore the landscape of occupational safety and health and its implications for developing solutions that provide effective protection for workers and their communities.

The professional body commissioned studies by teams from the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), Loughborough University, Cranfield University and the universities of Nottingham, Reading and Portsmouth, under the direction of Professor Robert Dingwall.

The findings are examined in a book, Health and Safety in a Changing World, edited by Ms Frost and Prof Dingwall, which will be published by Routledge in early 2017. Papers on the research projects feature in the October 2016 edition of IOSH’s academic journal, Policy and Practice in Health and Safety (PPHS).

Prof Dingwall said: “IOSH’s investment in the research programme Health and Safety in a Changing World has delivered a rich resource for strategic thinking and discussion within the occupational safety and health (OSH) profession. In particular, it offers a deep analysis of the changing institutional contexts of work and employment, the evolution of management thinking and practices, and the emerging place of OSH within this.

“This analysis provides an opportunity to widely reflect on the fitness for purpose of established approaches to education, training and professional development and on the relationship between OSH professionals, managers and workers to ensure currency and connectivity of the profession in the world of work and society.”

The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) contributed to the research programme with a research study examining Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) knowledge from its creation to end use.  The IOM research team worked with Heriot Watt University to examine knowledge transfer and knowledge management and how it can be applied in the context of safety and health as well as trying to understand the current OSH landscape in the UK and who is providing OSH knowledge, which OSH knowledge sources are preferred and through 12 case studies, what happens in practice. Some of the main findings are presented below:

  • There are numerous sources of OSH information available in the UK but those used most frequently were government sources and professional sources (HSE, NHS, and IOSH) and this was due to them being trusted, easy to access and free to access.
  • When transferring OSH knowledge to non-specialists, skills such as being able to identify and source authoritative knowledge on particular hazards or risks are essential as well as the ability to translate that knowledge to the local context including language, literacy levels and to evaluate readiness for change.
  • Experienced practitioners in OSH appreciate the importance of planning any OSH intervention as well understanding the importance of using face-to-face communication for complex messages or to those less experienced in the workplace or using other means such as electronic communication for disperse workforces.
  • The importance of using existing information networks (either face-to-face contact or virtual) to intervene or to re-assess risks after intervention were also identified as significant in this research.

For more details on the research programme and to read the full research reports, visit www.iosh.co.uk/changingworld.

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  • Dawn Evans
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    Great report thank you!
    I will miss the webinar as it’s tomorrow and j have a ticket for the HSE forum in London
    The HSE Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) will meet in open session on 7th November at 2pm where I suspect this too will be discussed.

    It’s really helpful to make links with what’s current and ISO / OHSAS 18001 standards at work. I hold a NEBOSH NGC and am very much interested in keeping up to date and planning for the future.

    Best Regards

    Dawn