The OSH profession is well placed to respond to the powerful global forces impacting on the workplace. We hear from some of IOSH’s key players about how the institution is equipping the profession for a dynamic future.
The world of work is weathering a global storm of epic proportions with significant ramifications for the future. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, economies had become ever more interconnected globally, and the frantic pace of change, particularly so in the field of technological innovation, was starting to displace traditional models of workplace governance and regulation. A rethink was needed.
Employers and employees alike have had little choice other than to adapt to this global seismic activity, which has reshaped workplace responsibilities and roles and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Everyone has also had to become much more resilient. The disruptions caused by the current pandemic and also from more long-standing economic, environmental, political and social forces, are forcing governments and businesses to be much more agile in these unsettling times. With new emerging work models come new hazards and risks that must be managed carefully to minimise and eliminate harm.
In these tumultuous times, the OSH profession has never been more relevant. As we see overleaf, IOSH remains at the forefront in its preparations for a future world of work.
Andrew Sharman CFIOSH, IOSH president
Global societies, economies and workplaces are changing. IOSH is responding by collaborating with others to enhance OSH understanding and influence.
Organisations and their OSH professionals face many new and emerging risks. After years of working to reduce physical injury incidents, IOSH recognises that millions are being crippled or losing their lives to preventable occupational health diseases. Climate change is affecting risk profiles with changing rainfall and temperature patterns. Technological change is introducing new activity risks: even driving a rise in ill health from sedentarianism. Employee demographics are changing in response to the need to keep people healthier for longer.
Organisations are beginning to understand what sustainability means. Employees are being considered sources of value rather than merely a fixed cost. They are recognising that investors, employees and their fellow citizens are beginning to hold them to account.
There has been no better time for raising the profile of the OSH profession. But this changing environment is demanding new member skills. IOSH has recently introduced a new competency framework and has plans to modernise IPD and CPD processes. It is also driving a need to enhance IOSH products and services.
We are working with global organisations on our shared priorities around sustainability and human capital, wellbeing, non-health-related fatalities, occupational cancer, musculoskeletal disorders and rehabilitation. We are also working with different governments to set OSH performance standards.
To deliver its vision of a safe and healthier place of work and to meet its charitable objects, IOSH must ensure that it has a viable global membership and a successful commercial arm. Anything it does must be viewed from these two perspectives. Never has there been a greater need for IOSH and its 48,000 members.
Duncan Spencer CFIOSH, IOSH head of advice and practice
The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated change in the world. To minimise the spread of this disease, rapid modifications to workplace design and practices have been necessary.
The focus has shifted to preventing accidents and occupational health diseases associated with remote working. OSH professionals are advising on good management practice for remote workers, including finding and perfecting methods to mitigate psychosocial risk.
Those working at home are moving less, making health hazards associated with sedentarianism more common (such as obesity). Emerging technologies further encourage these static work practices.
In the evolving modern workplace, organisations may become reticent about recruiting full-time employees thereby increasing the size of the gig economy and all the challenges that brings ensuring the competency of workers. Don’t look towards regulatory changes to help – post-pandemic governments will be focused on economic survival. We are more likely to see increasing emphasis on the development of international safety standards to raise global performance consistency instead.
We will emerge from this pandemic with a new normal. OSH professionals will be required to meet fresh challenges. They must become thirsty for knowledge and be flexible and agile.
'IOSH is leading and serving a profession growing in influence'
Richard Orton, IOSH director of strategy and business development
A consensus has emerged in business on the importance to its sustainability of embedding safety and health management into its strategy and culture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a harsh test of organisations’ abilities to survive in difficult times and has brought to the fore how critical the protection of workers is to their resilience.
For years, IOSH has been a leading voice for the core role safety and health plays in sustainability. We have been leading the debate with multinational businesses, investors, asset managers and the profession on the sustainable management of human capital. We believe that societal sustainability should be considered equally alongside environmental sustainability and that’s why we campaign to ‘put people back into sustainability’.
IOSH is now collaborating with governments and intergovernmental bodies such as the World Health Organization, who recognise our global reach and ability to mobilise a profession that can influence progress across industry sectors. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have provided a framework for nations and, at a micro level, organisations to build for the long term. Safety and health runs like a golden thread through these goals and their underlying targets.
It is why human capital and sustainability is one of our priority areas – we believe safety and health should be integral to business and become a sharp focus of those members of our profession operating at board level. To this end, we’re meeting the needs of business by developing direct relationships with global supply chains, trade associations and ‘business’ professional bodies and through our training product development.
Business, however, does not operate in a vacuum. Legislators, regulators, customers and the media all have a bearing on the decisions made by organisations so we’re providing thought leadership and influencing policy-making through our campaigns and work with governments, who are now seeing IOSH as an influential actor on the world stage.
With occupational safety and health becoming increasingly central to long-term business planning, IOSH is leading and serving a profession that is growing in influence.
Richard Jones, IOSH head of policy and regulatory engagement
IOSH engages positively in major and life-changing OSH public policy areas across the world – from helping organisations deal with the traumatic effects of pandemics and climate change to adapting to digitalisation and automation.
We call for all work to be ‘good work’, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and for business, governments, investors and societies to champion and benefit from an inclusive, human-centred approach that protects and enhances safety and health. Our policy work includes advocacy and campaigns, strategic evidence submissions, policy position development and white papers and external representation. Examples range from support for World Health Organization guidelines on protecting healthcare workers from COVID-19, to advocating for OSH as a fundamental right. Other examples include the need to regulate artificial intelligence and combat modern slavery and gender-based violence, promoting corporate OSH transparency, mental health at work, and OSH becoming integral to sustainability.
Ensuring effective OSH regulation and social protection are significant issues for many governments, given the growth in informal working, platformisation and workforce diversity.
IOSH is actively informing international standards and education as part of the solutions, so that basic health and safety risk management can be available to all, helping create what we’ve termed ‘risk-intelligent societies’.
Ir Prof Dr Vincent Ho cfiosh, IOSH immediate past president
Asia-Pacific is responsible for about 10% of global workplace fatalities, so improvements are needed. However, it will take time for Asian countries to replicate those with more advanced OSH systems. You can’t transform a prescriptive safety system into one that measures OSH performance like the UK does overnight. Any approach must be tailored to reflect the local conditions and culture. OSH messages may also need to be adjusted to adapt to different social settings.
IOSH’s formal presence in the Asia-Pacific region began with the Hong Kong branch in 1998. About 10 years later, IOSH set up a second one, the Singapore branch, to meet growing demand for IOSH membership from OSH professionals in the region. As we have built up a strong presence here, there are aspirations to grow further in the region but this requires careful planning to maximise opportunities and provide sustainable support to the membership and the community at large.
Working with IOSH, the two branches are looking at how best to allocate resources. One option is to use Hong Kong as a base to build IOSH membership in countries like China, South Korea and Japan. Singapore would play a similar role in building members in countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia.
There is huge potential to grow IOSH membership in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years. OSH professionals in the region could, in 10 to 15 years’ time, provide 50% of IOSH’s membership.
Maria O’Malley, IOSH head of membership engagement and development
The ever-changing world of work has placed increased demands on organisations and businesses, which in turn presents mounting pressures and challenges for the OSH profession. In response, IOSH is developing an array of initiatives to ensure IOSH membership continues to be a global mark of professionalism.
One of our many activities to raise the profile of the OSH profession, demonstrate the value our members deliver to their organisations and strengthen the global recognition of IOSH membership is our grades review. This review ensures our grades are responsive and relevant to the evolving demands of the sector.
Promoting OSH professionalism to the next generation and creating a talent pipeline is also vital as part of our aim to enhance the profession. IOSH’s Future Leaders Programme nurtures new professionals, equipping them with knowledge and skills to help build their careers at this critical juncture. But this forms part of a wider piece of work on creating tailored and differentiated benefits for our members according to their career stages, fully supporting their professional development. Through this, we aim to make IOSH a truly valued career partner to our members, putting them at the heart of what we do and providing a membership offering that is personal and relevant, backing them every step of the way.
Our commitment to positive change
Whether it is arming the profession with new skills and insights to garner greater influence in their organisations and beyond, or growing its reach, working with dynamic global partners to improve policy and regulation, or becoming a leading voice in influential campaigns, IOSH is committed to driving positive change. Only in a world where everyone has safe, healthy and supportive working environments can the global community truly prosper.