Government needs to invest in safety and health to support workers, businesses and the economy
IOSH has submitted proposals to the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, calling for recognition of the importance of occupational safety and health in revitalising and rebuilding an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposals position occupational safety and health not only as key to combatting the pandemic, but also as a guiding principle for the future of work.
To protect lives and livelihoods, IOSH calls for improved resourcing for the work of important government functions, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which enforces the regulatory framework and provides guidance; the Work and Health Unit, which supports those with health conditions and workforce health and wellbeing; and the Department of Health and Social Care, which helps implement COVID-19 security arrangements, such as test-track-isolate systems and the provision of personal protective equipment. Furthermore, IOSH proposes increased public health awareness campaigns.
Richard Jones, IOSH Head of Policy and Regulatory Engagement, said:
“To help address the current COVID-19 crisis and beyond, we call on the Government and HM Treasury to support the urgent action we have proposed to protect lives and livelihoods and improve workforce health and prosperity.
“We know that good work is good for health and wellbeing and that positive feelings about work have been linked to higher productivity and profitability, as well as customer and worker loyalty, and we’re calling for ongoing health and safety commitment, resourcing and capacity-building.”
As well as immediate responses to the pandemic, IOSH believes that significant government department spending is needed to build long-term OSH skills and capacity. It emphasises that by supporting effective occupational health and safety management, work can be both productive and good for health and wellbeing.
IOSH recommends that government trade deals and major investments and infrastructure projects – for example, plans for broadband provision, green technologies and housing programmes – should all embed effective occupational safety and health principles at the design and agreement stage, to help ensure reliable delivery and support productivity.
In addition, IOSH suggests that incentivising responsible business conduct, corporate social responsibility and high-quality corporate occupational health provision will all have a net positive impact in supporting individuals and businesses, as well as economic renewal.
HSE statistics on occupational health for 2018-19 in Great Britain revealed that there were:
- Four million cases of work-related ill health, with 23.5 million working days lost.
- 13,000 deaths from past exposures at work.
- 602,000 cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety.
- 498,000 cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
- around £22bn annual loss to the economy, including from long-latency diseases.
When considered alongside the human and socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and the fact that overall only 39% of private sector employees (and only 21% in small enterprises) have access to occupational health services, these figures demand urgent action.
Mental health at work is a pressing and growing concern, especially as the negative psycho-social impacts of the pandemic and economic recession deepen.
It’s been estimated that some 300,000 people lose their jobs each year in Britain due to long-term mental ill health, and that many people’s wellbeing has suffered significantly during the pandemic. Yet evidence shows that where organisations take improvement action, there is an average return of £4.20 for every £1 spent on mental health interventions.
IOSH has recommended that the Government provides financial incentives for small and medium-sized businesses to support better occupational health and mental health at work.