IOSH magazine spoke to co-author of the HSE 2030 report Dr Anthony Renshaw, who explains how the future vision of OSH is taking shape, not least in light of the current pandemic.
In May last year, the International SOS Foundation published its health, safety and environmental (HSE) report HSE 2030, which asked 230 OSH professionals to articulate their vision for the future of the sector. Among the report’s wealth of findings (see HSE 2030 report takeaways, right), the increasing complexity of health and safety, along with heightened states of regulatory compliance, industry best practice and data management, indicates that the demands placed on OSH professionals – and the influence they wield – will become more extensive over the next decade.
‘Three-quarters of the report’s participants thought that responsibilities are going to go up. With the changes in the world of work that we are seeing, that’s possibly even more likely now than when the survey was done,’ Anthony says.
‘More than half of the participants also thought that HSE might become a board or C-suite role. Again, I think the role of HSE is increasingly likely to be operating at that level. With the advent of COVID-19 there has been, I think for the first time among many organisations, the realisation that senior-level engagement with OSH needs to help make these crucial decisions.’
One of the drivers for that boardroom influence is best practice. While new campaigns to adopt market-leading levels of HSE practices are undoubtedly more positive than raw commercial competition, they place more responsibility and focus on the performance of OSH professionals.
‘A number of organisations we support are increasingly interested to know what other bodies are doing and how they can be leaders in their field in OSH,’ Anthony says.
While OSH extends its reach further into the boardroom, the requirement for more data and more effective practical influence means it is expanding its reach at the other end of business too. But this may require overcoming regional disparities.
‘Developed countries have quite extensive wellness programmes in their healthcare system. In less developed countries, they are not so well established,’ Anthony says.
'The most forward-thinking companies are already wondering what the impact is going to be on chronic diseases, in particular from prolonged periods of isolation'
‘What we see more and more with the trend in non-communicable diseases is that the emerging economies will face the brunt of this burden. Companies are going to start wondering how they can put the best practice wellness programmes or health programmes in place across all of their sites, not just the sites where they already have robust health systems.
‘That will become more of a way of showing that the business is providing duty of care to its employees, and I think it will become increasingly prevalent. We already have a number of examples of companies that have run very sophisticated health programming in very remote places and in very challenging countries with healthcare systems that don’t currently support that.’
Wellness and wellbeing
For accurate provision, one element is key: data. Anthony says that access to timely and accurate data will give HSE professionals the edge. ‘A lot of the challenges are going to be around the reliability of data, particularly health data. Where do you get the data from and how has it been sent to you? Having consistent data across the multiple sites that professionals might be managing will help them improve accuracy and make better decisions.’
The current COVID-19 outbreak and the measures used to combat it have brought the potential influence of wellness and wellbeing programmes into even clearer focus.
‘When we wrote the report, 59% of participants saw wellness and wellbeing as a key driver. Looking at today’s picture, it’s probably going to be even more important because of the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce,’ Anthony says.
‘The most forward-thinking companies are already wondering what the impact is going to be on chronic diseases, in particular from prolonged periods of isolation. It could be lack of physical activity, or change in diet or tobacco consumption. It’ll need to be really closely monitored.
‘The focus on mental health will develop much more swiftly because a large proportion of the working population is at home and facing the challenges that can bring. A large part of the workforce is going to face stress and anxiety from uncertain job climates and positions within their companies, so I think it is going to be even more of a driver in even more organisations.’
Mental wellbeing was highlighted in HSE 2030, says Anthony: ‘Companies were already looking at a number of ways to improve it across the workforce, from providing emotional support to employees globally, to focusing on the mobile workforce who are at higher risk, to facilitating telemedicine.’
‘Mental health is a significant cause of business disruption and presenteeism. In many cases, it is the most significant health cost across a business, so I think there will be an increasing focus on this topic as time goes on.’
The right direction
However, there is still good reason for satisfaction in the areas where the sector has got things right and is working to inform future developments.
‘The sector has done well in protecting the interests of workers in the most vulnerable groups: for example, in workplaces where we have been able to put in place robust surveillance programmes to protect health,’ Anthony says.
‘It’s also been good at establishing standards across countries and across industries, which has helped companies understand what they should be achieving. All of the advances mentioned in the report – from ISO 45001 to GRI 403 – have given companies an understanding of what data to collect and what metrics to follow, so now we can have a really clear understanding of what success looks like.’
Dr Anthony Renshaw is medical director of medical services, northern Europe, International SOS
Image Credit | iStock
HSE 2030 report takeaways
84% of survey respondents believe there will be an increase in complexity of health and safety requirements by 2030
By 2030, the biggest positive impact will come from wellbeing programmes 59% and partnering with specialist healthcare providers 55%
72% said regulatory compliance would be the key driver for change, 53% said industry best practice, and 43% said data management
49% of respondents expect an uplift in HSE budgets of more than 25% by 2030 – driven mainly by data analytics and use of automation