The workplace is evolving. Increased life expectancy and new ways of working, such as the gig economy and ‘always on’ access to technology, are transforming employment – and not always positively.
Organisations have moral and legal duties to implement effective occupational health and safety, including provision of health surveillance for certain activities. Failure to safeguard workers can bring devastating repercussions for an organisation’s reputation and finances. For instance, sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences recommend steep fines to penalise neglectful employers that prioritise profit over worker safety and wellbeing.
Meanwhile, research published in September 2017 by The Centre for Mental Health, Mental health at work: The business costs ten years on, shows that sickness absence due to mental ill-health costs the UK economy more than £8 billion per year.
Proactive and preventative health and wellbeing strategies are integral to creating a sustainable and healthy workplace.
This, in turn, can provide significant return on investment, which the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) highlights in its business briefing The healthy profit, published in March 2018. Employers can see reduced sickness absence and insurance and legal costs, as well as other benefits such as better retention, boosts to morale and productivity and an improved reputation with customers, investors and potential new talent.
Effective occupational health implementation requires a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach across workplace functions such as health and safety, HR and facilities. A staff member should be viewed as a whole person, taking account of physical, mental and emotional factors both in and out of the workplace.
Protection of good health is important, and can be achieved through promoting positive health and lifestyle activities, as well as supporting individuals to both return to and stay in work.
Naturally, employees themselves have a significant part to play by taking personal responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, there is much that employers can do, bringing benefits to the employee, the organisation and the wider economy.
Ruth Wilkinson, CMIOSH, is head of health and safety at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)