December 18, 2023

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Nathan Baker – Institute of Occupational Medicine

The Institute’s CEO says it’s time to reassess safety for a modern workforce.

Fifty years on from the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA), it is clear that this crucial piece of legislation has had an undeniable impact on the health and safety landscape.

It has been instrumental in maintaining a safe working environment, highlighting the importance of staff health and safety training, and providing relevant instruction and supervision. Undoubtedly, it has saved countless lives throughout the years, prevented workplace-related accidents, and reduced non-fatal and fatal injuries alike.

Reassess perspectives

First introduced at a time when UK workers in factories and mines faced dangerous working conditions without standardised health and safety regulations, it is now time, given the evolution of remote and hybrid working, to reassess our perspectives and reconsider what health and safety means for a modern workforce.

CREDIT: James Thew / Alamy Stock Vector

Safety is, of course, paramount, but the pandemic has brought into focus the realisation that a healthy, engaged, and productive workforce depends on more than accident and injury prevention. Our modern lives cannot be compartmentalised: all aspects of our health – physical, social, and mental – feed into one another.

Recognising this holistic approach is essential for workplace wellness as we move forward, addressing not only the physical symptoms that employees present but also their mental wellbeing and the underlying causes behind workforce ill-health. Financial stresses; environmental factors; anxiety and depression; and unhealthy work habits such as presenteeism can detrimentally impact health and, in turn, productivity, staff retention, business reputation and growth.

Indeed, HSE statistics highlight the worrying impact such aspects can have, with stress, depression or anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders accounting for 17.1 million days of work lost in the UK in 2022/23. On average, each affected individual took 15.8 days off work, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

While the HASWA has achieved much success across the safety industry, demonstrating tangible and immediate impacts coupled with regulatory obligations, addressing health and wellbeing in the workplace requires tapping into people’s common sense and their ability to self-regulate so that they can identify and manage risks themselves.

Human-centric approach

It is time to prioritise health and wellbeing at the heart of our efforts using a human-centric approach. Cultivating an organisational culture and fostering behavioural change – from the top down – that embeds the importance of health and wellbeing-related issues within it is key. By doing so, businesses and their workforce both stand to gain.

With 68% of adults thinking occupational health is important yet less than 10% believing that what their workplace provides is of value/importance (YouGov survey 2022), there is an urgent need for businesses to embed this health management mindset into their overarching strategy.

Businesses require professional guidance and advice to achieve this, and to tailor their health and wellbeing programmes and investments to meet the specific needs of their employees. Only by doing so will they see positive results in terms of reducing stress; improving physical and mental health; and achieving higher levels of job satisfaction, morale, and performance.

Those in managerial and leadership positions should look to collaborate with experts such as those at the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), and leverage our significant experience, insights, and evidence-based research to better understand and support their employees and gain the confidence to place health and wellbeing firmly on the boardroom agenda.

Rightful place

Championing people’s health and safety for over fifty years, the IOM not only supports businesses to evaluate their workplace health and wellbeing activity, but, in doing so, helps to ‘design out’ negative health impacts through improved training, awareness, wearable technologies, and enhanced workplace elements such as lighting, heating, ventilation, and physical layout.

As we look to the next fifty years and beyond, let us ensure that health and wellbeing are given their rightful place alongside safety, that each is valued and integrated systematically across all areas of business, and that we commit to securing a healthier, happier, and thriving workforce.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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