“A business’s most valuable asset is, and will always be, the dedicated staff that devote themselves to delivering the work of the organisation”
– Professor Dame Carol Black, UK National Director for Health and Work (2006–2011)
28th April marks international World Day for Health & Safety and Workers’ Memorial Day. It’s no coincidence that both occurrences share the same date. While we embrace how far we’ve come in protecting workers’ welfare, we need to recognise that there’s still a long way to go in creating safer working environments.
The message is clear: no matter what industry you work in – whether you employ workers in an office, construction site, restaurant, warehouse or store – countermeasures against hazards and threats to workers’ health, safety and wellbeing need improving exponentially.
Not only is safety a basic human right, protecting employees lives and helping them improve or manage their health is integral to running a successful business. And yet companies around the world simply aren’t doing enough to prevent worker injuries and illnesses as the following figures demonstrate.
A Drain on Global Economy
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) calculated that the annual global cost of work hazards stands at a staggering $1.25 trillion ($1,250,000 million US dollars). Where are we losing the money?
- Decreased competitiveness – When an employee is sick or injured they lack the motivation needed to move up the ladder. The Competitiveness Advisory Group highlights why this affects the economy: “Competitiveness provides the basis for raising people’s’ earnings in a non-inflationary way.”
- Early retirement – ILO revealed that “40 % of all retirements before the statutory age are caused by a disability. On average, this shortens working life by about five years, and it is equivalent to 14% of the lifetime working capacity of the employed labour force.”
- Reduced household income – A workplace illness or injury can result in a significant financial loss for a family. Leslie Boden discusses this in her article Running on Empty: Families, Time, and Workplace Injuries: “Occupational injuries and illnesses can provoke major crises for the families in which they occur. In addition to major financial burdens, they can impose substantial time demands on uninjured family members.”
- Increased absences – The Office for National Statistics estimated that 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. Imagine how that upsets business efficiency and productivity.
- Unemployment – ILO pinpoints the financial fallout of unemployment because of sickness or injury: “One-third of unemployed people have an impairment of working capacity that is not great enough for them to be entitled to a personal disability pension or compensation but which seriously reduces their re-employability.”
The economic impact of occupational injuries is reason enough to do more for workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. But there’s another side to these welfare concerns that’s often overlooked and needs understanding.
Workers’ Mental Health and Wellbeing
It’s not just injuries that can cause psychological problems – such as depression and anxiety – for employees. When we neglect to help staff overcome work-related stress or deal with their own health and wellbeing, this has a negative impact on not only people’s quality of life but on society’s financial health.
1 in 6.8 people experiences mental health problems in the workplace. And “12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions”, according to the Sickness Absence on the Labour Market report.
If the government, healthcare services, employees and employers did more to improve people’s wellbeing at work, we could save £8 billion a year in the UK. For a happier and healthier working society, it’s imperative that we do everything we can to raise awareness and promote the wellbeing of the people we employ.
How You Can Help
As the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health points out: “A large part of an employee’s life is spent at work […] employers can and should play an important part in helping their workers achieve a good quality of life.” The following suggestions are powerful ways you and your workforce can get involved in improving workers’ welfare.
Small actions within your organisation can cause huge waves when enough people take part. Spend time away from your desk to build awareness around workers’ safety, health and wellbeing both in and outside your company:
- Talk to colleagues about the national day
- Attend relevant events and meet others invested in the cause
- Share resources on employees’ safety, health and wellbeing
- Encourage staff to wear purple ribbons
- Get involved on social media (use the Twitter hashtag #WorldWHSday2017)
Inviting new ideas
Hold special events or meetings to discuss employee welfare. Not only will this help you build awareness but you’ll gain insights into the current status of your business’s health and safety and discover ways to improve your current procedures.
Creating an action plan
An action plan will clearly translate your health, safety and wellbeing objectives while encouraging positive activity for you and your employees. When formulating your plan, organise it into the following sections to ensure you cover everything:
Section One: Write down your health, safety and wellbeing goals.
E.g. To manage risks to employee health and prevent physical and mental harm go beyond minimum legal requirements
Section Two: Explain how you’re going to meet these goals
E.g. Seek advice from external health and safety specialists when required
Section Three: Outline employer responsibilities
E.g. Line managers and supervisors must ensure safe systems of work are followed at all times
Include your entire workforce in the action plan so that everyone is involved and connected to your health and safety goals. If you need advice or don’t have the time to create a plan, visit a health and safety consultant. The renowned industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie illuminates the importance of working collectively:
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
A Reactive Culture No More
While a lot can be said for the progress we’ve made as a country, millions of people are still suffering because of our current reactive culture – the ‘me first’ mentality putting vulnerable people around the world at risk in the workplace.
World Day for Health & Safety and Workers’ Memorial Day reminds us that the principle of prevention in the workplace should be our highest priority. To save lives, working towards a national workers’ safety and health culture is everyone’s responsibility.