Freelance Journalist

July 19, 2019

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The sustainable workforce

The sustainable workforce: How to maintain your health, safety and wellbeing strategy in a shifting world

Every organisation’s human capital includes the skills, knowledge and abilities that workers bring to their work, and how they use them. Effective occupational safety and health (OSH) management helps workers safely operate in their work environments, making OSH a foundational element of human capital.

Helping wJonathan Nobbsorkers operate safely and healthily in their work environments underpins overall corporate performance and organisational sustainability. Drawing on the experience of delegates on IOSH’s leadership programme, Leading Safely, this IOSH Leadership Forum session was presented by Jonathan Nobbs, IOSH’s Head of Product. It explored how cultural, societal and financial imperatives can help organisations better understand how they can protect, and make best use of, their people.

Jonathan began by saying that although the UK workforce goes to work each day and focuses on all that that entails, many will be unaware – or not pay attention to the fact – that externally the agenda is changing: and this is influenced by government, financiers, the media etc. All well-informed employers and employees know that using effective PPE is a good thing – and indeed, is mandatory – but we need to think more broadly than that i.e. about the wider strategy – because it’s vital that we change and respond to the agenda going on around us: this is the core of Jonathan’s job, and he shared his key learnings during this session.

Trends are reshaping work environments and practices

Recent years have seen a massive shift in workforce demographics, and also the way people undertake their work, for example:

  • Workforces now have a greater proportion of older workers: by 2030 the age group 55 to.

64-year olds will account for 30% of the workforce in most countries.

  • Many people choose to work part-time, or primarily from home, or flexibly. Also, the way in which workers are contracted has changed, for example with the advent of the gig economy.

Businesses that are agile and responsive will survive

Responsibility and sustainability are now vital to the bottom line; therefore, productivity levels are usually under the microscope. Sickness absence impacts considerably on productivity, and one of the key statistics in this area is interesting and worrying: mental ill-health costs the UK economy more than £8 billion per annum.

There is an increasing focus on businesses’ social performance: this is due to public scrutiny, and is largely fuelled by the changing face of media, particularly social media. Another contributory element is the ‘Generation Z’ factor: classified as those born between 1995 and 2009, this cohort is universally acknowledged as the largest and most influential on consumer spending than any other previous generation. Possibly the most influential demographic group currently, any brand or organisation wishing to connect with this cohort needs to completely rethink their strategy regarding how to effectively engage with them.

Backing the UN principles for responsible investment

The United Nations are investing in improving workplaces – to achieve decent work and economic growth. Their campaign Six Principles for Responsible Investment states: “we believe that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios (to varying degrees across companies, sectors, regions, asset classes and through time).”

UN’s sustainable development goals

Jonathan NobbsThe UN’s campaign has 17 goals, and states: “The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.”

Corporate sustainability

The UN Global Compact campaign is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, and comprises ten principles – including ‘labour’, which encompasses ‘elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour’ and ‘the effective abolition of child labour’.

Amongst the areas of focus are ‘ethical; financial; societal; environmental’ and it’s within ‘societal’ that ‘safety ‘sits – this is the area that investors are scrutinising.

Opportunity versus cost

Jonathan shared a key statistic here that demonstrated the value of OSH, stating there is an ROI of 2.2 euros for every 1 euro invested in occupational safety and health.

Market failure

Here, Jonathan revealed several interesting statistics about health, safety and wellbeing, that demonstrate the impact on strategy and culture:

  • Nine out of ten medium and large businesses have a health and safety specialist, and see them as a central component in creating a positive, productive work culture (31%) and essential to the success of the business (30%)
  • Only 38% of business leaders identified health and safety training for employees as a tactic for managing absence (source: Survey of Medium and Large Businesses, IOSH Opinium, 2017)
  • Only 28% of business leaders invested in their own learning, to develop an organisational strategy and culture with safety, health and wellbeing at its core (source: Survey of Medium and Large Businesses, IOSH Opinium, 2017).

A solution that works for you too

Every organisation will need its own unique solution: however, there are key elements to consider, that can help with this:

Governance: effective, good corporate governance in health and safety keeps the Board ‘happy’ i.e. assured of compliance and ethics

Assurance: every business’s Board is looking for assurance – no one wants their employees to be victims of health and safety failures, nor the business to be culpable for the consequences

Culture: governance, assurance and systems all feed into ‘culture’. If these elements are undertaken effectively, then the culture will encompass the business’s strategic objectives

Systems: i.e. ISO45001. Without governance, assurance, and culture, systems are meaningless.

‘Safety’ should be integrated into all the above – it shouldn’t be a separate strategy. This is the approach utilised by global, blue chip businesses that IOSH is increasingly working with, to ensure they have the right strategy and culture to respond to Health and Safety. These household names include: Google; Nike; Unilever.

In his final slide of the session, Jonathan summarised ‘strategy’:

  1. Review your occupational safety, health and wellbeing strategy in consultation with employees, and assess the management structure to ensure it supports sustainable business leadership through effective:
    • Governance: strategic; accountable; and providing assurance
    • Culture: human-focused; engaged; and responsive
    • Systems: integrated; simplified; and proactive
  1. Make safety and health procedures and programmes both proactive and reactive, designed to ensure workforce health and wellbeing – in addition to simply preventing accidents
  2. Align all functions vertically and horizontally, in order to share responsibility for aspects of safety, health and wellbeing, and to ensure joint working across the value chain
  3. Integrate employee safety and health initiatives into a sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, and across existing management systems
  4. Gather key performance indicators for measuring and reporting to stakeholders. Gather baseline data on lagging and leading indicators where not already measured e.g. for wellbeing initiatives. Consider aligning initiatives and measurements to a framework such as GRI403 or the Sustainable Development Goals.

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