December 13, 2022

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Make people’s safety and health central to sustainability and business decision making, urge OSH experts

Covid-19 highlighted the need for safety and health leaders to be central to decision making and shaping the sustainability agenda, heard delegates at a recent symposium, in London. Health and safety journalist Tim Walsh reports.

Staged by The Capitals Coalition, RoSPA and L’Oréal, the event, called People Sustainability: The Future, brought leaders from industry, academics and senior occupational safety and health (OSH) practitioners to County Hall, Westminster, for a day of discussions on the future of safety, health and wellbeing.

Sponsored by L’Oréal, it comprised a series of keynote presentations and panel sessions on the different challenges for the OSH profession and business, such as the need for evidence-based practice, ESG (environmental, social and governance) reporting, diversity, inclusion and equity and the use of technology to promote positive mental wellbeing in the workplace.

The event followed on from a human capital and sustainability summit at L’Oréal’s research headquarters in Paris three years ago, and it was hosted by L’Oréal Global Vice-President Health and Safety Malcolm Staves and The Capitals Coalition ambassador and Global Solutions, Inc CEO Kathy A Seabrook.

“Back in 2019, the theme was putting people back into sustainability,” said Mr Staves. “That’s the journey we have been on. Now Covid has given us an opportunity, because business and government has seen the value of what we do, and we need to seize that opportunity. People deserve to be at the heart of sustainability.”

A panel discussion at the event. (Left to right) Natalie Nicholles, John Dony, Sabine Hoefnagel, Helen Slinger and Tom McKenna

Protecting the system

Opening the sessions, RoSPA Chief Executive Errol Taylor said the legacy of the health and safety system needed to be protected in the face of a deregulatory political agenda. On the central theme of the symposium, he said: “How we grow and develop human capital; this is the challenge of talent and talent management. How do we nurture and develop and maintain the right culture in organisations?”

Dr Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyds Register Foundation, delivered the keynote presentation of the morning, on the use of evidence to inform safety and health practice. We know what we know, but what don’t we know, and how can we find out and connect the dots to use this information to bring about change? she asked.

“We will make better progress in future sustainability of our planet if we take an evidence-based approach,” said Dr Cumbers. “Evidence should be seen as part of the business case for investing in occupational safety and health.” And that evidence needs to be inclusive, incorporating diversity and accessibility, she added. Expert evidence needs to be triangulated so it’s from more than one expert.

Launching a new White Paper, The Capitals Coalition senior director Natalie Nicholles led a session entitled Valuing Human Capital in Occupational Health and Safety, with National Safety Council Vice-President of Thought Leadership, John Dony, ERM Global Director-Strategy Sabine Hoefnagel, Capitals Coalition Senior Manager Tom McKenna and Yorkshire Water Head of Sustainable Business Helen Slinger.

Sabine Hoefnagel said: “I really do believe that Covid has put the centrality of people to business resilience and ESG to the fore. I was at COP27 and there was as much talk about the link between health and climate change. We see many organisations looking at safety way beyond keeping people safe and maintaining productivity.”

Sustainability and ESG

Ms Seabrook, Co-Chair Human Capital in OSH and Wellbeing Project, The Capitals Coalition, led a session on the role of health and safety in sustainability and ESG reporting. The panel included Michael Cooke, Vice President – Social and Environmental Responsibility at Jabil Group, Neil McFarlane, Firmenich Senior Vice President – Global Quality, Health, Safety and Environment, Carole Smets, Group Health and Safety Director, Pernod Ricard, and Jennifer McNelly, CEO of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP).

Among themes covered in this session was how to engage with senior decision-makers in business. “Never once do I have an exec who says they need to know safety,” said Ms McNelly. “What they say is that what they need to know is business. I firmly believe we need to balance and bridge between C-suite and the workforce.”

Mr McFarlane said: “If you are going to have that impact with C-suite, you are not going to get anywhere if you don’t speak business language. It’s how you can look at not just the business values of a company, but how you fit into the wider business agenda.”

During this panel discussion, panelists were asked for their reflections on Connecting the Dots: Safety, Health and Environmental Sustainability, a research paper published at the event.  The panelists commented on the importance of breaking down silos in organizations and that the paper provided a good road map on the interconnectivity between these disciplines.

Driving change

Karen McDonnell, Occupational Health and Safety Policy Advisor at RoSPA, led the next panel session, on road safety and its importance to sustainability. The panel included Thiago Ramos, Global Health & Safety Manager, L’Oréal, Dee Arp Chief Operating Officer, NEBOSH, Roger Bibbings, Partnership Consultant, RoSPA, and Fiona O’Donnell, Global HSE Strategy Lead, Jacobs. “Road risk is about sustainability,” said Ms Arp. “Driving for work is one of the biggest risks people will have.”

Mr Bibbings said: “When you are putting effort into the safety of your on-road operations, you are not just protecting your staff, you are protecting the community.” On the best approach to safety and health in general, he added: “You can only do health and safety with people, you can’t do it to them. You have to be just and fair, and involve your workforce in a meaningful way.”

Ms O’Donnell began the afternoon sessions with a profile of Jacobs’ ground-breaking One Million Lives campaign on mental health. In October, Jacobs led a global coalition of companies on a day of action over mental health, and achieved the world’s largest mental health check-in. The data collected, she said, included more than 30,000 mental health checks, and ‘resilience calls’ garnered a global audience of more than 75,000. “It’s about building relationships, connecting the dots and solving the issues,” she said.

Psychological safety

IOSH Immediate Past President Louise Hosking, co-founder with Mr Staves of the OneWish Foundation and Director of Hosking Associates, led the next session, on diversity, inclusion and equity. The panel included Bobbie Grant, Senior EHS Manager Global, Thermo Fisher Scientific,  Anne Isaacs, Estate Manager, Rivermead Court Ltd, Kizzy Augustin, Partner – Health & Safety, Environmental and Fire, Mishcon De Reya, Rosie Russell, Head of Environment, Health and Safety, MeiraGTx, Nishma Mistry, Safety Strategy Manager, Transport for London, and Christine Sullivan, ASSP President and SVP Risk Control Director at Sompo International.

“DEI is about unlocking full potential,” said Ms Russell. “It’s about creating that psychological safety for people to come to work as their whole self.” This thought-provoking debate captured one of the key challenges in business as well as occupational safety and health, and it will be covered in more detail, with other sessions, in a soon-to-be published report on the symposium.

International ORP Foundation President Hans-Horst Konkolewsky wrapped up the sessions before workshops with a presentation entitled Vision Zero and People Sustainability – Towards a paradigm shift in OSH? “If you need to change the culture, you need the leadership (of a business) to engage, and then everyone has to be involved,” he said. “Everyone needs to be empowered to manage their risks at work.” This is why, said Mr Konkolewsky, that “OSH performance has become central to corporate sustainability strategy”.

Following workshops on various aspects of people sustainability and human capital, Ms Seabrook wrapped up the event with a call to action. “We need bridge building, collaboration and more opportunities for interconnections with wellbeing embedded in decision making,” she said.

More information on the event, including the full report, will be published on the RoSPA website here.

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