Following the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and organizations around the world have taken unprecedented steps to ensure the safety of their employees, customers and clients. In this context, health and safety trends are evolving as organizations adapt to changing circumstances and regulations. With major changes in ways of working, managing physical risks, mental strain and a remote workforce are some of the trends that are emerging.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of these trends and explore what they mean for the future of health and safety in our workplaces and communities. So, buckle up and get ready for an exciting journey into the future of health and safety!
Trend #1: Increased focus and support for mental health at work
The aftereffects of Covid-19 have shone a spotlight on mental health. The sudden and unexpected changes to daily disrupted routines and caused uncertainty about the future. This uncertainty and lack of control lead to continued, increased levels of stress.
Then there are the issues associated with the move towards remote and hybrid work setups. Work-life balance became blurred without the physical separation of home and office. Furthermore, there’s been a reduction in social interactions that maintain the workplace community.
In response, the HSE has put the reduction of work-related ill health, with a specific attention to mental health and stress, at the centre of its 2022-2023 strategy and says that it intends to:
“deliver interventions that make a real difference”
As a result of this, we will likely see continued pressure on employers to take more responsibility for their employees’ mental health and for ensuring the workplace environment is psychologically safe for everyone.
Employers already have a legal duty to employees and other workers (i.e. contractors) to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, their health, safety and welfare. This includes mental health as well as physical health. Though the duty to look after mental health is not new, until recently hasn’t been a principal area of focus for health and safety regulators.
We anticipate that 2023 could therefore be the year where we see the HSE take enforcement action in this area.
One of the ways that employers are addressing mental health in the workplace is by providing access to mental health support. Many companies now offer employee assistance programs (EAPs), which provide confidential counselling and support to employees who are dealing with mental health issues.
In addition to EAPs, some companies are also implementing wellness programs that focus on mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques, and many are appointing Mental Health First Aiders.
Trend #2: Empowering a remote workforce to take an active role in their health and safety
In the past, safety management has often been seen as a top-down process, with management setting the rules and workers following them. However, we’re now seeing a growing trend towards a safety culture where workers are encouraged to take ownership of their own safety and to be proactive about identifying and addressing potential hazards.
One of the ways that companies can do this is by encouraging workers to assess their own risks, to report hazards and to suggest ways to address them. Providing workers with the training and resources they need to be proactive about safety can help this transition.
While transitioning towards a more agile safety culture can be challenging, the benefits are clear. Workers who feel empowered to take ownership of safety are more likely to be engaged and invested in their work, and they are also more likely to identify and address potential hazards before they become serious problems.
Courses such as this DSE Self-Assessment Workshop Designed For Hybrid, Mobile and Homeworkers are an ideal way to empower employees to take charge of their own workspace and to protect themselves from developing work-related ill health.
Trend #3 Focus on preventing injuries and MSDs in a remote workforce
Remote work has become the new normal, and it has brought about several changes in the way businesses operate. One of the most concerning changes is the rise of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) among remote workers. This is because most home office setups are improvised and therefore not ergonomically suitable. Injuries can be caused by incorrect posture, repetitive movements, and prolonged sitting and can lead to severe health problems, including chronic pain and mobility issues.
The first step is to educate remote workers on the importance of proper ergonomics. This includes the correct positioning of the computer screen, keyboard, and mouse. It also involves taking regular breaks and engaging in stretching exercises to prevent muscle fatigue.
Additionally, employers can provide ergonomic equipment to remote workers to help them maintain proper posture and reduce the risk of MSD. An effective way to establish what equipment is needed is to offer workstation assessments to employees working from home.
Implications of these trends for businesses
The three key trends: increased focus on mental health in the workplace, managing the specific workplace injuries that stem from remote work setups, and further empowering an agile workforce to take a lead in safety management have significant implications for businesses in all sectors.
- Businesses will need to invest in new technologies and training programs to keep up with the changing landscape of health and safety.
- Employers will also need dedicate the same attention to their workers’ mental health going forward as they would their physical safety.
- Employers will also need to adapt to the rise of musculoskeletal disorders and ensure better ergonomic conditions for their remote and hybrid workers.
While these emerging trends have enormous potential for improving health and safety in the workplace, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed:
- Resistance from workers who are used to a more top-down approach to safety management
- Locating specialized and relevant training and resources.
- The cost of implementing new technologies and training programs can be a significant barrier for many businesses.
However, while there are certainly challenges associated with implementing these trends, the potential benefits are enormous. Businesses that are proactive about addressing these trends are likely to see improvements in productivity, worker engagement, and overall safety. So, let’s embrace the future of health and safety and work towards creating safer and healthier workplaces and communities for all.