A seat at the boardroom table

Mark Parrish,  senior medical ambassador at the International SOS Foundation
Mark Parrish is senior medical ambassador at the International SOS Foundation

OSH professionals can wield more influence at board level if they take heed of a new report from the not-for-profit organisation, International SOS Foundation.

The era of reporting solely on lost-time injuries and fatalities is ending as new orthodoxies determine how professionals report on health. These are being driven by initiatives such as the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) for wellbeing and work health (see our Nancy Leppink leader interview), and changes to standard guidance for occupational health from bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO). 
In this context, the International SOS Foundation’s HSE 2030 report (bit.ly/2LVPNpr), which analysed the responses of 230 industry professionals surveyed worldwide, is enlightening. It found that 84% of those responsible for health, safety and environment issues (HSE) or occupational safety and health (OSH) believe that there will be an increase in complexity of safety and health requirements by 2030. 
The report summarises the key factors that will affect OSH professionals. 
The biggest cause of change by 2030 was anticipated to be regulatory compliance, cited by 72% of HSE professionals. Within this, the four biggest global influences on compliance were expected to be: 
  • UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Revised GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety Global Reporting Initiative GRI Standard
  • BSI ISO 45001: International Occupational Health and Safety Standard
  • International Labour Office (ILO) Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems.
Beyond these main influences, there are other regulatory trends that organisations should consider. These include regulation around climate change, ionising radiation, workplace violence and sexual harassment. 
The next biggest drivers of change were found to be industry best practice compliance (53%) and data management (43%). The fact that industry best practice comes in as the second biggest driver is logical given that compliance changes often sit hand in hand with how the industry evolves. Since most organisations continue to struggle with legacy technology systems and how best to invest in a data-driven future, it makes sense that data management is expected to be a key area.   
The report also found the biggest positive impact on HSE and OSH by 2030 is expected to come from wellness programmes (59%). This encouraging development is driven partly by the fact that organisations are starting to recognise the connection between wellness (both physically and mentally) and company performance. Added to that, as countries work towards meeting the UN’s SDGs, it is expected that more regulation affecting workers’ health positively could be enacted. Ultimately, this will result in more companies considering optimising and extending wellbeing programmes. As part of this, it’s important for them to think about how to bring these benefits to their employees in lower-income economies. 
Another key finding is that the drivers of investment in wellbeing will be most influenced by data analysis (55%) and the use of automation (48%). Today, data tends to be used more from a safety rather than health management perspective. In the future, there will be a stronger push to analyse large quantities of health data. So those companies that take a consistent approach and invest in capturing health data for their programmes globally will not only be better placed to comply with regulation but will have an edge in health performance. 
Considering these developments, it’s unsurprising that the research revealed that the role of the HSE professional was expected to evolve. In fact, three respondents in four thought the responsibilities and scope of the HSE professional would increase by more than 25% by 2030. With more compliance and legislation expected, it is likely there will be more focus on sustainability reporting. This will require closer collaboration between HSE professionals and other stakeholders across the organisation. All of this begs the question: is it time for this role to enter the boardroom? 
More than half of the respondents anticipate that HSE will be a board-level or C-suite role by 2030. As part of the International SOS Foundation’s work with OSH professionals, various measures emerged that could help to speed this development. These include: 
  • Speaking the language of the business more
  • Obtaining leadership commitment to OSH
  • Ensuring that return on investment is captured early and reported visibly 
  • Active engagement with management through frequent bottom-up and top-down communication. 
What’s more, in an era of sustainable development goals, OSH will increasingly be used as a positive discriminator to win work. But to turn this into an opportunity to move OSH up the agenda, there will need to be more networking with sustainability departments.
The changing regulatory landscape and a growing recognition about the importance of health to the business bottom line will underline the focus on tracking health performance. To enable this shift, HSE and OSH professionals will need to better understand medical risks and capitalise on the tools available for this purpose. By leading the drive for business to become more sustainable from a health and safety perspective, OSH could find a foot through the boardroom door.


Mark Parrish is senior medical ambassador at the International SOS Foundation.

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