Future Challenges Facing Safety and Health in the Workplace

09 May 2019

No job should take away a worker’s life. Yet, 7,500 workers across the world die each day because of their jobs. Many of these deaths occur because of poor workplace health and safety conditions. Of these deaths, 6500 are due to work-related diseases and 1000 to occupational accidents. But this scenario is only one part of this tragic picture. Every day nearly one million people get hurt at work, impacting workers economically, physically, and socially.

Workplace Health & Safety

These conditions cry out for companies to improve occupational health and safety, building a dependable safety culture. Leading the way to create safety cultures is the International Labor Organization (ILO). This 100-year-old U.N. agency brings together governments, employers, and workers of 187member states. Its’ goal in a nutshell: help set labor standards, develop and devise safety programs, and promote safe and decent work for both women and men.

Recently, the ILO released a special report on workplace health and safety issues. The report, Safety and Health at the Heart of the Future of Work, provides an in-depth look at occupational health and safety going forward. This 82-page report discusses several major global workplace trends. It also includes a close look at the ways in which the ILO has helped shape safety over the past one hundred years, discussing what the future challenges in workplace health and safety will be.

The report looks at four critical areas that will be the major source of future challenges to workplace health and safety. They include:

  •       Technology
  •       Demographics
  •       Sustainable development and OSH
  •       Changes in work organization

Below we review the health and safety challenges in two of these four critical areas—technology and demographics. We then provide some tips on creating safety cultures that can help you beat future safety challenges and decrease risk.

Technology and Workplace Safety

Workplace Health & Safety

Advancements in technology have greatly affected the industry over the years, in both positive and negative ways. In the years to come, they will continue to do so, transforming how people live and do things. These advancements, like AI and Big Data, are accelerating and will also have a major impact on the workplace, changing the ways that people work, the environments that they work in, and the conditions under which they do their everyday job.  

More importantly, these advancements will disrupt patterns of work-related injuries, deaths, and diseases. This disruption will create new challenges in workplace occupational health and safety for managers—challenges that must be overcome to develop reliable safety cultures within businesses. The ILO report sees three key areas of technology as critical sources for these new challenges;

  • Digitalization and ICT,
  • Automation and robotics,
  • and nanotechnology.

These technology advancements will still provide new opportunities to overcome future challenges. For example, robots will take over more dirty, dangerous, and demeaning jobs previously undertaken by work­ers. Telework will cut com­muting time, the related stress and the risk of an accident occurring. Wearable smart devices will allow managers to monitor worker behavior and relay safety and health advice and information to workers in real time.

Demographics and Gender

The workplace is continually changing. This won’t alter in the future. Like new developments in technology, these changes will create new worker health and safety challenges and require new regulations and standards. They’ll also place enormous pressure on labor markets and social security systems, unearthing new issues regarding inclusive workplaces. Businesses will have to take on these challenges to create productive safety cultures.  

Workplace Health & Safety

For example, countries like Africa and Asia have large populations of young people entering their workforce. These workers often have higher rates of occupational health and safety issues compared to older, more experienced employees. Factors contributing to these higher rates are lower levels of physical, psychosocial, and emotional maturity, limited education and job skills, along with less work experience. These higher rates of health and safety issues incraese the risks.

Additional challenges mentioned in the ILO report are aging worker populations, gender gaps, often in the heavy industry and migrant workers. These issues will create unique challenges to companies focused on improving occupational health and safety conditions in the workplace. For example, migrant workers may start work healthy, but the complexity and diversity of working conditions often render them highly vulnerable to poor physical and mental health issues.

Creating Occupational Health and Safety Cultures

Addressing the challenges described in the ILO report will require more than just creating future safety regulations or standards. Full-blown safety cultures need to be created for different business organizations. Below, seven of the proven best practices for building a robust safety culture to deal with future safety challenges are listed.

Workplace Health & Safety

  1. Define health/safety responsibilities — This best practice is a critical step that needs to be taken for every level of your organization—not just in Human Resources. Make sure you include policies, goals, and plans for each level.
  2. Share your safety vision — Creating objectives for each level in the organization is also critical. But, everyone in your organization must be on the same page when it comes to health and safety. Remember to share your corporate vision with all stakeholders.
  3. Impose and enforce accountability — In a robust health and safety culture, everyone is accountable for health and safety. However, this only occurs when you impose and enforce accountability on all employees; including managers and supervisors. This should deliver positive leadership and drive positive change.
  4. Offer numerous options — Providing options builds employee confidence along the way, encouraging workers to come forward with any concerns, helping to prevent accidents. Offering multiple ways for employees to bring their health and safety issues full-face is a good start. So is creating a chain of command to ensure that managers and supervisors respond to these issues.
  5. Report. Report. Report — Employees in an organization with a strong safety culture report all incidents and near misses. Make sure your workers know how important it is to report a near miss. You’ll probably get a surge in the number of reports at first, but that will soon level off.
  6. Hold regular meetings — Regular safety meetings should be held, either weekly or monthly. Have employees lead the talks to boost worker buy-in. Also, make safety policies and procedures available electronically or in print. Use your Intranet to communicate safety expectations and best practices.
  7. Provide online training — Providing training shows employees that you’re committed to safety, especially with new employees. A good time to do this is during the onboarding process. Using Initiafy’s solution boosts learning for new employees, creating a safer and more compliant working environment, streamlining and simplifying the onboarding process, while reducing paperwork and costs.
  8. Lead by example — Remind managers and supervisors that they need to lead by example. If managers and supervisors commit to safety, your employees will do the same thing. Employee buy-in is critical to having a positive safety culture. In safety, you have to walk the walk.

Use these eight practices to build a robust health and safety culture within your organization. Doing so boosts employee confidence,  improving worker retention rate while enhancing organizational behavior and increasing productivity. More importantly, it cuts costs, reduces risk, boosts profitability, since medical costs for injured workers subtracts from the bottom line.

Creating an effective workplace health and safety culture has the single greatest impact on accident reduction. While the health and safety challenges may change in the future, as the ILO’s recently released report indicates, the need to cut costs, keep workers healthy and at work, while reducing company risks, remains.

Workplace Health & Safety

Jenny Snook
Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at Initiafy with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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