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Occupational hazards - December 2021

14 December 2021

Employers that set high standards for the treatment of their workforce, their communities and supply chains will reap the rewards, says Ruth Wilkinson.

WE ALL recognise that the business world is changing at pace and will most likely continue to do so. There are many reasons for this, with key factors being the Covid-19 pandemic, technological advances and the rise of social justice movements. 

All of this and more is creating a need for businesses to look beyond the immediate here and now and have a much sharper focus on what it means to be a corporately responsible, sustainable, innovative and resilient business built on solid financial, environmental, social and ethical principles.

And if businesses want to move in this direction, it all starts with people and considering all people across the business value chain.

We have all heard (and probably used) the term sustainability or sustainable development. When we talk about corporate sustainability we are referring not merely in the environmental sense, because sustainability is a much broader humanitarian issue.

At IOSH, we understand that work is not just a source of livelihood for workers to support themselves, their families and their communities but also a foundation of self-worth, dignity and growth. From the starting point that work should be safe and healthy for all workers, we can readily see that good work should be measured not only in wages and salaries or in productivity, but also in how well an organisation looks after its people and those in the supply chain. 

And the world is watching. Investors, regulators, workers, consumers, the media and politicians are asking questions of business about how it looks after its people. There is a growing social and ethical dimension not only to choices made by consumers but also to decisions by investors on where to invest their funds and by other businesses and suppliers on who they want to do business with. 

Moreover, workers themselves have a voice. If employers want to recruit and retain the best people, they must demonstrate they treat their people well, including ensuring fair pay and building a mutual relationship of trust.

Employees rose to the challenge as the Covid-19 pandemic struck, whether attending work as essential/ key workers, or through the adaption of work delivery methods and operations, using innovation and technology changes, or even running operations from the safety of people’s own homes. Time and again, people stepped up and supported their employer, helping to maintain their business and securing their futures. 

Now, our workforces and society are looking to employers to repay that trust. It is time for them to ensure they are adopting a person-centred approach to everything they do, treating employees as an asset, protecting them, and creating the conditions to promote decent work and long-term value. 

In the simplest of terms, people ultimately hold the answers to the many challenges businesses, communities and society face and this needs to be recognised. 

And, as we look to the future, social sustainability credentials will come under increasing scrutiny. Employers which set high standards for the treatment of their workforce, their communities and supply chains are reaping the rewards with stronger performance and growth. On the other hand, poor working conditions, neglect and abuse are exposed to a global audience that demands justice. 

For a long time, the environment has been the central point of discussions about sustainability. Now it is equally vital to engage with the social aspect of sustainability – the idea that looking after people today will enable them, and the organisations for whom they work, to thrive tomorrow and beyond.

Social sustainability is in fact intertwined with occupational safety and health. By viewing everything you do through a people and health and safety lens, you can go a long way to ensuring you are a socially sustainable business. You can work towards preventing any hint of modern slavery in your business and supply chain and manage the risks to the mental health and wellbeing of your workforce, ensuring parity between mental and physical health. You are investing in your people, for their future and your business’s, and ensuring they have the skills and awareness to operate safely. You are reducing the risk of workers being injured and being made ill by work. 

Through our recently-launched Catch the Wave campaign, IOSH is working alongside international partners to harness the collective energy of progressive businesses and make a long-term commitment to driving social sustainability forward, with a global force of occupational safety and health professionals making sure change happens on the ground.

Businesses can join this global movement and demonstrate to their people, their customers, and investors that they are taking social sustainability seriously. 

It’s time to catch the wave with IOSH – or risk getting left behind. Visit www.iosh.com/catchthewave

Ruth Wilkinson is head of health and safety at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. For more information, visit www.iosh.com