October is fast approaching, and with it comes the European Week for Safety and Health 2023. The initiative, which focuses on raising awareness of occupational safety, is set to run from the 23rd to the 27th of October.
This year’s event will promote the EUs upcoming Healthy Workplaces Campaign 23-25, which centres on the topic of ‘Safe and healthy work in the digital age’.
As digital technology continues to evolve at an unmatched pace, it can present both possibilities and challenges for occupational health and safety.
On one hand, new technologies such as digital and biometric monitoring systems, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence could offer ways of improving safety for workers, even removing them from extremely hazardous situations altogether. For example, if advanced drones can perform certain operations at height, it means that a human being is not being put at risk.
On the other hand, there are numerous challenges to this increase in digitisation, including concerns over personal data privacy, displacement of labour and increased isolation of workers as the workplace becomes more automated and remote working more common place.
As modes of working continue to change, your organisations approach to maintaining health and safety needs to change as well. It’s not enough to focus solely on physical safety, new risks will have to be mitigated and new hazards identified.
To aid you in this, we have come up with a list of 3 ways your organisation can help reduce accidents and cases of work-related ill health:
1. Recognise and understand psychosocial risks.
What are psychosocial risks?
The UKs Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines psychosocial risk as “things that may affect workers' psychological response to their work and workplace conditions (including working relationships with supervisors and colleagues)”.
This is broadly in line with the International Labour Organizations own definition, which identifies it as “Anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work-related stress can be understood as a psychosocial hazard”.
Psychosocial risks in the workplace can take many forms, including (but not limited to):
- Workload/ work pace
- Organisational issues and structure
- Social isolation
- Lack of control over work
- Work that is machine or system paced
The 3rd European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER 2019) found that psychosocial risks are “more commonly reported in workplaces where digital technologies are used”.
So how can you take steps to prevent these risks? The Healthy Workplaces Campaign Guide recommends taking an employee-centred approach with regard to workplace digitisation, with continuous consultation with the affected workforce and transparency on the part of management about how new tools operate and store data. Employers may also have to adhere to regulations such as GDPR.
Other measures that can be taken to combat psychosocial risks include reducing the monotony of certain tasks, making sure that workload or deadlines do not become unreasonable, and frequent touchpoints within teams to prevent social isolation. You can benefit from software with surveys that collect honest employee feedback.
2. Be mindful of a variety of risks to physical health and safety.
The physical wellbeing of employees has been the centre of health and safety as a concept since its inception. For many the classic image that springs to mind are hard hats at a construction site, guards and safety features on a factory floor or even steel toed boots in a warehouse.
The physical risk of the workplace is still very apparent. HSE figures for Great Britain (2021/22) record 477,000 workers suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), 565,000 workers being injured at work, and 123 workers being killed in work-related accidents. According to a 2019 European Risk Observatory report, roughly three out of every five workers in the EU-28 report MSD complaints, with 3 355 fatal accidents at work in 2022.
It's good to be aware of less obvious physical risks as well. As remote working has become a fixture for many since the Covid-19 pandemic, it has brought with it its own set of ‘hidden’ risks.
EcoOnline's Hybrid Working Survey found that a fifth of employers surveyed did not provide equipment for home working as part of hybrid arrangements. It also found that 32% of employers surveyed did not have a risk assessment for home working at the time. Our survey also found that 49% of employees identified MSDs as an issue.
3. Create a formal employee wellbeing plan.
‘Wellbeing’ is a term that can have a myriad of meanings, depending on who you ask. A quick google search for employee wellbeing brings up images of a smiling yoga class and plant life (sometimes combined!).
Employee wellbeing is defined by PeopleInsights.co.uk as “as the overall mental, financial health and physical health of your employees”. The impact of any workplace wellbeing plan depends on how well your employees’ needs are met under each of these headings.
Your first step is finding out exactly what those needs are.
For example, under the ‘physical’ topic, an increase in sedentary working mean that employees may not be moving much or at all during the day. There are various issues related to this, including eyestrain from increased screen usage to occurrences of MSDs (see above).
For the ‘mental’ topic, a blurring of lines between home and work means that many are now working longer than the traditional workday. A physical ramification of this is seen in research by the European Heart Journal, which found that people who worked three or more hours longer than the usual seven-hour day had a 60% higher risk of heart-related health problems such as death due to heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and angina. Are you ensuring that employees are taking designated breaks and finishing on time?
An increase in cost of living means that more employees may be under financial pressure, leading to an increase in stress. It might be beneficial to make financial advice available for your employees or consider flexible working to accommodate responsibilities such as childcare.
In any case, your wellbeing plan is not a case of one size fits all. Building you plan starts with an open conversation with employees on their needs and workplace health issues.
Hopefully you found some useful information within this article. This year's European Week for Safety and Health gives businesses an opportunity evaluate how digitisation effects their workforce, and how technology can be used in a safe, transparent and sustainable manner. It also reminds us to take an all-encompassing view of health issues in the workplace, especially those which we don't immediately think of.
At EcoOnline, we strive to make health and safety accessible for businesses and their employees in all industries, regardless of size and complexity. If you are interested in learning more about beginning your own software project, download out dedicated guide below.