Prioritising safe and healthy workplaces should happen every week

Healthy Workplaces

Kick it off with the European Week for Safety and Health at Work

At the time of writing, it happens to be the European Week for Safety and Health at Work. This annual initiative by the European Agency of the same name (EU-OSHA) aims to engage employers across the entire EU. It encourages employers to think about, celebrate, and focus even more on creating safe and healthy workplaces for employees.  

The UK may not be a member of the EU anymore, but its workplace legislation remains significantly aligned with those of Member States. Plus, it is always a good idea to pause for thought on best workplace practices. This year’s key focus is on the prevention of MSDs (Musculoskeletal Disorders). Read our article MSK absences and disorders are straining the backs of British business for a stark reminder on why this is a critical employee health topic.

Creating healthy workplaces is not optional for employers

It is somewhat sad that we still need awareness raising days and weeks like this. Every employee in Britain is legally entitled to a safe and healthy work environment. This has been the case since the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act consolidated these rights more than forty years ago.  

Unfortunately, the very term “Health and Safety” often causes managers to roll their eyes. Despite the digital era in which we work, it still calls up images of stern assessors with long forms and clipboards. Risk assessments are often regarded as a chore for managers and site owners. They are treated as a tick box exercise that must be endured.

This must change. The importance of safe and healthy workplaces was brought home in stark terms during the pandemic, and it is time that this is better recognised and prioritised by every employer organisation. What employing organisations need is to create far more integrated and effective employee health management approaches. These approaches need to integrate ‘health and safety’ within a more connected and complete model for supporting healthy work.

Back to basics of why health and safety matters

Health and safety programmes are much more effective when organisations support managers to manage employee health, safety, and wellbeing as an integral part of their role. Doing so means supporting and informing them better across four key areas:

1/ Health – which is defined as a state of being, free from illness or injury.

No employer in their right mind can argue that this is not of paramount importance. Unless they have workers that are fit and able to work, they cannot operate. Yet most employers are unable to see or state exactly who is present and fit for work, with any accuracy or confidence.

2/ Safety – which is defined as a condition of being protected from or unlikely to face danger, risk, or injury.

Of course, failure here is where employer liabilities kick in. Yet without safety, health is inevitably compromised. It is hard to see how any employer could fail to regard this as an essential concern. Managers need to be able to manage risk assessments as an integral part of their other employee health interactions.

3/ Absence – which is a direct and costly consequence of any failures on health, safety, or employee wellbeing.

Unless organisations maintain safe workplace environments in which employees are protected and cared about, absences are inevitable – particularly unnecessary absences, extended absences that last longer than they should, and long-term sickness absences from which many staff will not return. Many companies have no clarity on how workplace health and safety compliance or accidents relate to their absence picture or patterns.

4/ Occupational Health support – which can make all the difference in the world.

Not only does providing excellent OH support for employees ensure that staff with health conditions or injuries are supported back to work faster, but it can also prevent many unnecessary absences, shorten others, and enable effective work adjustments. These support swift and safe returns and help retain staff who might otherwise become long-term absentees or leave the firm.

Embedding health and safety into the enterprise

Ensuring a culture, organisation and workplace in which employee health is prioritised can only be led from the top. Business leaders need to recognise that health and safety should not be treated in isolation as a compliance requirement. It must become integral to everything they do.

Creating healthy workplaces is becoming more of a priority, and for that we should all be grateful. Business leaders are increasingly benefiting from better understanding of organisational health. This year’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace is generating some interesting data on the state of health of UK employees. Our employee health director Dr Steve Boorman is part of the team evaluating this in 2022. You can learn more in our previous article Creating a healthy workplace effectively requires data.

We await the results, but hope that it will improve on previous worrying data such as:

  • Work related stress is on the rise – 56% of workers report stress, with more than 10% of workers earning less than £30k suffering from depression
  • 42% of workers say they have issues with their sleep
  • Only 28% of workers know what health support is available to them – 72% do not
  • UK businesses lose the equivalent of 14.6% of each employee’s working hours annually

Effective change is only possible for businesses by creating a connected environment that enables managers to support the safety and health of employees in their everyday interactions and activities – not when a risk assessor sticks their head around the door.

Empactis helps organisations support managers across the enterprise to manage the health, safety, and wellbeing of employees better, and connect it closely to absence management and HR case management. Learn more about Empactis Absence Manager.