Most health and safety programmes tend to default to safety because they are more often seen as a business priority, especially in higher-risk sectors. Safety is driven by legislation and regulation and organisations find it easier to show their commitment to safety because it is tangible and visible – you can see hard hats, inspect records, documents and equipment. When you talk about health it tends to be the smaller component – health programmes are sometimes included but they are not given equal measure.
It is fair to say that some industries are more focused on health than others, although we are seeing advances even in traditional industries such as engineering and construction. In the chemicals sector, for example, there is a drive to ensure employee health is monitored regularly. It wasn’t always like this but there has been a monumental shift in attitudes over the past 30 years.
In other industries we have seen health very much the remit of HR or the occupational health professional if they’re based on site, but that is changing and the function is becoming more of a focus for the health and safety team. However, our assessors have commented that individual businesses are now taking a proactive approach rather than it being industry- or sector-specific.
ISO 45001 does take a significant step forward compared with other occupational health and safety standards. It covers both physical and mental health with criteria that ensure correct monitoring and surveillance are in place. ISO 45001 helps to drive a safety culture – employees are better informed and more aware and leaders have to be fully engaged and on board. This is a clear trend. The balance between health and safety is being significantly addressed in this standard and there is much emphasis on senior leadership to implement programmes and take action on the former.
Has it gone far enough? The standard puts equal emphasis on health and safety – the balance is altered through interpretation and the impression our auditors have is that some businesses talk about health but put insufficient thought behind it.
We’ve seen a range of examples from established wellbeing programmes to the recruitment and training of mental health first aiders and in one organisation the launch of lifestyle improvement projects through the introduction of exercise equipment, fruit bowls and smoothie-makers.
If an organisation commits to ISO 45001, it is taking on the responsibility to focus not only on safety but health too. Businesses can choose to appoint employees with this specific remit or train teams to drive improvements in this area. There is no doubt that, as a whole, we have made huge progress, but there is always more that can be done to improve the approach to health in all organisations.