Social Sustainability: At the Heart of Health & Safety at Work
By Louise Hosking CMIOSH CEnvH MCIEH CMaPS PIEMA SIIRSM, Director of Hosking Associates and OneWISH Co-founder
World Day for Safety and Health at Work
28th April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Launched in 2003 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the day is intended to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally and focus international attention on the positive potential outcomes and value add which can come from developing an effective safety and health culture in the work environment.1
Adapting and evolving
What does safety and health mean in the current work environment? The workplace is becoming increasingly complex, and the pandemic has fueled transformation in the way so many of us work. Technological advancements and global networks connect us constantly anywhere across the globe, and remote working has become mainstream.
However, whilst there are benefits to this new way of operating, challenges have arisen or even been exacerbated by the pandemic, including infectious disease, social divide and inequality, employment instability, increased workload, social isolation and burnout.
This rapid change and resulting challenges have meant that organisations have had to adapt their strategies equally quickly and look for innovative new ways to take their teams with them. This has involved clear prioritisation, adjusting arrangements and communicating clear key messages which must land without delay.
Health and safety as a business concern
The pandemic brought health and safety into the spotlight and emphasised the need to put people and their mental and physical health first. With a greater focus on psychological health and safety we create work places where people feel safe and able to respond to these changes. With this focus our people feel strong enough to bring their best selves forward and work together to meet the very many challenges we are currently facing. This is how the most successful organisations are growing.
We are all having more conversations around transparency and ethical consumption. Customers are increasingly looking deeper and questioning the way those they purchase from, or their partners, operate. Businesses of all sizes, but particularly larger organisations, are going to have to invest in infrastructure to support their people especially in poorer nations and communities, transforming their supply chains, and themselves, in the process.
As the skills shortage becomes more and more critical, organisations will need to be positioned to attract and retain the right talent. Businesses that will be successful in this matter will be those who do not compromise in respect of their social and ethical principles, or the safety and wellbeing of their employees over financial considerations.
How we do business has changed, and will continue to do so, yet even with all the technological developments and integrations, at the heart of all this change is people. Social sustainability considerations are inseparable from health and safety and the future of health and safety is in developing and maintaining a careful balance between financial, environmental and human concerns – People, Planet. Profit. We are facing a sustainability crisis because our levels of consumption are out of sync with what we are producing which is making the world more and more unstable. Unless we reduce our consumption, the climate instability and the inequality in living and working conditions will continue to deteriorate.
Sustainability is so much more than environmental concerns and climate change. It is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We must improve the environments in which we live and work as a core value alongside other business values. Focusing purely on profits causes people, communities and our planet to suffer. We cannot focus purely on climate change as we have limited knowledge and resource. There must be balance for a business to thrive and become truly sustainable. Human capital and environmental capital must become an intrinsic part of operations valued as highly as financial capital.
The role of the health and safety professional
It is time to reconstruct our current methods of production, operation and consumption. Health and safety professionals are here to support infrastructure and facilitate practical ways to create healthy, safe places to work and do business. Collaboration, creativity, transparency and honesty are key values for partnerships between health and safety professionals and businesses. The workplace of the future should be inclusive, supportive and diverse, and designed to create a harmonious environment for people to work safely and productively. This will bring value to their life and to the wider community, but for this to happen on a global scale we must look objectively at where we are today, face the reality of the situation and take practical steps in order to get where we need to be.