Better leadership needed to boost health & safety performance

21 June 2024 Consultancy.eu 4 min. read
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The expectations on companies for health and safety (H&S) guarantees from all stakeholders (including employees, regulators, and boards of directors) are continually growing. In a new survey from ERM, the vast majority of participants reported increased expectations from their stakeholders.

The survey addresses health and safety (H&S) risks in a wide range of sectors, with a focus on changes in the field, leadership engagement, and psychosocial risk, which are the (often-overlooked) factors in the work environment that pose a threat to employees’ psychological wellbeing.

According to the survey, 94% of respondents reported feeling higher expectations from stakeholders over the last three years, and 80% said they anticipate expectations will continue to rise. The survey canvassed 250 health and safety function leaders in many different companies.

Better leadership needed to boost health & safety performance

Source: ERM

H&S functions are struggling to keep pace with the rapidly changing stakeholder needs and only 2% believe H&S professionals are fully equipped to keep up, as things are now. “In health and safety, leadership is the key, the lever to a safer, healthier, more engaged and more productive workforce,” noted the authors of the report.

“The voice of the function leaders on this is crystal clear. And all the data point towards a need to transform approaches to communicating and engaging the workforce on H&S. Not more, but different – and better.”

Change

The vast majority (89%) also reported that they expected H&S concerns to have an increased impact on their business in the next three years. This follows the trend of change being a constant, which has endured for a long time now. Most H&S leaders expect to have to grapple with a rapidly changing landscape for the foreseeable future.

Better leadership needed to boost health & safety performance

Source: ERM

The nature of work in so many industries has fundamentally shifted since the Covid-19 pandemic forced so many organizations to go remote. This tendency towards remote work has largely lingered even 4 years on, and both employees and companies have had to adapt to the changes.

The crucial question is whether organizations, under pressure on so many fronts, can successfully adapt their business models to address the health, safety, and wellbeing of their employees in an ever-changing technological landscape. Companies must also take into account the increasing H&S expectation from their boards of directors and from various regulators.

Leadership

Increased senior leadership engagement was the most frequently cited factor underpinning improved H&S performance by the function leaders (cited by 34% of respondents). Many function leaders expressed a desire to get closer to C-Suite leaders in order to do their job better.

According to the survey, a whopping 95% of the H&S leaders said that leadership engagement is the most powerful means of driving improvement in H&S. The majority also reported that leadership engagement has greatly increased over the past three years.

Better leadership needed to boost health & safety performance

Source: ERM

A better understanding of the risks and proper recognition of the business benefits of a more robust H&S strategy was identified as a reason for higher levels of leadership engagement by almost half (45%) of the participants.

Psychosocial risks

Depression and anxiety cause the loss of twelve billion working days yearly. In the UK, work-related stress, anxiety, and depression represented around 49% of all sick days in the past year, as per data from the UK Health and Safety Executive.

Concerns about psychosocial risks and declining mental health remained a significant worry for companies, with 87% of participants identifying it as a growing concern, ranking it 5th on their list of top concerns.

Better leadership needed to boost health & safety performance

Source: ERM

The ERM survey showed that only a slightly higher percentage of H&S respondents reported their leaders are well equipped to address psychosocial risk factors. There was a correlation between good leadership engagement on the part of H&S leaders and capabilities in dealing with mental health risks.

Overall, organizations continue to struggle with significant challenges related to psychosocial risk. As we enter a third year of the Covid-induced explosion of issues on mental health, 29% of the participants are just now embarking on company-wide diagnostic studies and working on the development of strategies, policies, and programs in this area.