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Occupational hazards - June 23

15 May 2023

With advances in technology, the working world is rapidly changing. Here, Lawrence Webb takes a look at how the OSH profession is adapting and responding to change.

WE LIVE in an era where one of the few constants is change. The way we live and work is changing all of the time, driven by advances in technology such as AI, and associated new thinking. According to the World Economic Forum, 85 million jobs are at risk of being displaced by technology, but technological advances could create 97 million new roles by 2025.

On top of this, the global financial situation and natural and man-made crises have a significant impact on us all and as a result, new occupational safety and health (OSH) risks are created, and this will continue. It is crucial, therefore, that the OSH profession continuously adapts and is able to respond to change, ensuring people are protected at work and beyond, just as it did during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In 2020, as a profession, we were front and centre of the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. We supported businesses in managing the risks of the virus spreading in workplaces. We provided a voice of reason and guidance on other OSH risks, including those caused by remote working and, in particular, mental health and wellbeing issues and musculoskeletal problems. 

This in turn led to more recognition and acknowledgement of the profession and the vital enabling service we provide. As revealed by our 2021 member survey results, 43 per cent of IOSH members feel more valued since the start of the pandemic. And this recognition will mean businesses will increasingly turn to OSH professionals for support in considering the impact of changes to the way they work.

The boundaries of what the profession does, plus what and who it influences have shifted alongside business needs. That translates into a maturity and greater recognition in the world of work that existence is not just for profit but to be more socially responsible, looking after and investing in your people and those within the supply chain. This underpins a sustainable way of working.

As the chartered body representing OSH professionals, IOSH is determined to ensure that they are in the best place to respond. This is a key theme of IOSH’s new strategy, Activate 2028, which was launched in March. 

This strategy picks up where the previous one, WORK 2022, left off and will guide IOSH’s activity over the coming five years as we continue to work towards our vision of a safe and healthy world of work for everyone.

Why does this matter? We know that an estimated 7,500 people die every day from either unsafe or unhealthy working conditions around the world. This is 7,500 families having to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, and many thousands of workers losing valued colleagues – many of them having witnessed how the death occurred. Many, many more suffer physical and mental ill health. 

This is a travesty and we’re determined to force change, moving towards a world where harm is eliminated – and we know our members share this passion and drive.

To strive for anything less than a safe and healthy world of work for all is not acceptable because that would be to say that we don’t value human life. Nothing could be further from the truth. As acknowledged by the International Labour Organization last year, everyone has the right to a safe and healthy working environment – which is now a fundamental principle and right at work. People should be able to expect to return home from work without having their health or safety compromised and ideally, in a better condition than before. This is non-negotiable.

Lawrence Webb is president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. For more information, visit www.iosh.com