From AI and corporate transparency to mental health at work, IOSH is loud in its calls to revitalise public policy, writes Richard Jones CFIOSH.
IOSH promotes the profession’s voice on the hot topics of the day, helping shape public policy affecting millions of lives. As well as taking action on COVID-19, we’ve recently called for important changes to revitalise the world of work and build back better and healthier.
Safer artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) can benefit OSH, mitigate climate change, improve healthcare and streamline agriculture, production systems and security. But it also has many risks: OSH failures, lack of transparency, biased decision-making, data and privacy issues, work intensification and criminal use. The European Commission (EC) is seeking the best policy and regulatory approach for AI.
IOSH welcomes the possible advantages of AI in reducing worker exposure to dangerous and unfulfilling tasks, but has also highlighted the need to design-in health and safety so that systems are ethical, human-centred and fail-safe, and prevent mental or physical harm. Only safe and healthy AI-enabled applications should be deployed at work, using human-in-command and increased multidisciplinary working between OSH and human resources professionals, AI designers, employers and workers. And all this should be underpinned by better regulatory oversight, governance, traceability and transparency.
So how will this affect the profession? OSH professionals will want to learn more about AI, share their knowledge and collaborate on safe design and implementation. The vital components for ensuring AI is used positively at work, with the upsides maximised and the downsides minimised, include improved AI education and awareness across organisations, increased transparency on usage and a safeguarding of the work/life balance. IOSH has specifically called for rights in respect to AI education at work, to workers’ ability to disconnect, and to explanation around decision-making. We’ve highlighted a growing role for the profession as risk advisers on the OSH implications of new AI developments, contributing at the concept design stage and throughout the lifecycles of enabled products and services as essential parts of multidisciplinary teams and transparent operations.
Consultations and CPD
It’s vital that IOSH members continue to provide invaluable input to strategic public policy areas, helping to build IOSH’s influence, improve OSH standards and support members’ own CPD. Visit iosh.com/condocs
Clearer corporate transparency
IOSH has also proposed stronger corporate transparency, a lever to improved health and safety performance and achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Non-financial reporting continues to move up the stakeholder and business agenda, and the EC is currently reviewing the 2017 non-financial reporting (NFR) directive, providing an ideal opportunity to propose improvement.
IOSH has been active in this area for many years and has urged the EC to involve OSH professionals, particularly in developing a new European NFR standard to help ensure consistency, quality and comparability of data. We have also highlighted that NFR should extend to all public interest entities (PIEs) and many non-PIEs. We have recommended a stronger definition of ‘materiality’ to recognise OSH and workers as an organisation’s greatest asset. We have also advocated that reporting requirements include leading and lagging indicators on OSH management performance, OSH training for directors, access to OSH assistance and the management of human capital, together with stronger assurance requirements for NFR, including on the materiality assessment process.
So what difference could such changes make to the profession? Expect to see more demand for OSH expertise as more organisations are required to report and gather reliable OSH performance data across operations. More OSH professionals may be asked to advise on the most efficient and practical way to do this, as well as on how to analyse the data and best present it to stakeholders. This is a great opportunity for the profession to promote the use of recognised reporting frameworks, such as GRI 403: OHS 2018, which IOSH helped develop. In future, stakeholders will be able to better track the progress that more organisations make, helping OSH professionals build the strategic case for OSH management to support corporate reputation, licence to operate and operational sustainability.
There is a growing role for the OSH profession as risk advisers on the implications of new AI developments
In addition to European regulations, IOSH has also been calling for the updating of important global reporting standards and the creation of brand-new ones. These are part of our proposals for the Global Sustainability Standards Board’s next three-year programme, which is currently being developed.
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting framework is used by 35 countries for their national sustainability policies and by the majority of the world’s largest 250 corporations. In the light of COVID-19, we have recommended updating, alongside the OSH standard, standards on employment, labour relations, child and forced labour, human rights, supplier social assessment and customer health and safety. We have proposed four new standards:
- Human capital
- AI and ethical use of data
- Modern slavery and human trafficking
- Gender-based violence and harassment.
IOSH has again offered assistance regarding the development and improvement of the OSH-related content of the GRI standards.
Once the new work programme is agreed, OSH professionals will be able to suggest relevant content, promote use of the new and updated standards within their organisations, and use the performance-data generated to help monitor and drive continual improvement. Increased transparency concerning the protection, development and management of human capital should help focus decision-makers’ attention on this key area and ensure that OSH professionals can secure the commitment needed for progress.
Have your say: Mental health at work
We need to urgently address fundamentals on the management of mental health at work. The ensuing socioeconomic benefits of tackling it have been recognised for decades. But despite bespoke guidance, management tools and awareness campaigns, little progress has been made.
Even before the pandemic, the UK had seen its highest-ever number of annual cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety. And today, across the world, COVID-19 has added to the psychosocial risks faced by workers, adversely affecting their mental health and wellbeing. So there are great hopes for the forthcoming new guidance standard ISO 45003, on managing psychosocial risks at work. IOSH is helping to develop this standard, which OSH professionals are encouraged to contribute to and promote. Members are invited to share their comments with IOSH to help inform our response by 18 September 2020 at [email protected], using the required-response template available at iosh.com/condocs