Risks of today and tomorrow

The British Safety Council has a proud history of campaigning for 60 years for the protection of people and of the environment. That work continues and, as part of our anniversary celebrations, on 1 November we are launching a new manifesto to help shape our future.

This document will frame and structure our policy and engagement work, and help us to articulate how we will achieve our vision that no one should be injured or made ill at work.

Traditionally the focus of the industry has fallen on safety rather than health issues in the workplace. Until a few decades ago, Britain was an industrial economy and most people were engaged in heavy manual work in industrial operations. Thousands of people were killed or suffered serious injuries, and the target was therefore the immediate safety issues.

Huge progress has been made since the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced in 1974, establishing health and safety risk management as a core requirement in British workplaces. As a result, the number of fatalities and serious injuries has reduced significantly. Times have changed too. Britain is now a professional and service-based economy which places different demands on workers; and as the number of accidents has decreased, there has been an increasing awareness of longer latency health issues.

Today, skilled and knowledgeable people are at the heart of the modern British economy, and employers are keen to support and retain them. Brexit has sharpened this focus too, particularly in sectors such as healthcare, hospitality and construction, where there is currently a dependence on skilled labour from other EU countries. Technological advances, and the changing nature of work, mean that many people can now operate effectively from any location with an internet connection. This can result in excessive working hours, but also allows people to work much more flexibly to accommodate personal and family requirements. The gig economy is changing employment relationships, and an increasing number of people work remotely, outside of traditional workplaces and contracts, which can impact negatively on health and mental wellbeing.

Technology is changing the way that people engage in work processes too. Automation, augmented reality and artificial intelligence systems are increasingly commonplace, with repetitive, manual and precision tasks now routinely handled by machines. This offers an opportunity to remove people from potentially hazardous tasks and environments. People still fulfil a unique function, but their role is changing, and there is a requirement to upskill the workforce to be able to work alongside new technology.

The time is right to focus on health as an enabler to work. However, this is not just about employing and retaining people with disabilities or long-term health conditions. There is also a need to act on health and wellbeing for the whole working population. We are living longer and pensions are frequently no longer sufficient to support retirement. As a result, the workforce is ageing, and many more people are having to manage the health effects of getting older while still at work.

Awareness is also increasing around the importance of sustainability. There is a need to reduce the impact that our activities are making on the climate and on environments around the world. So many of the earth’s resources are finite, and we must find new, smarter, ways to manage and replenish these important elements, which underpin every aspect of our lives, our health, our cultures and our economies.

Although the regulatory system for health, safety and environmental protection in the UK is widely acknowledged to be world class, the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy has brought concerns about the impact that deregulation might have had, not least on the effectiveness of allied systems covering fire safety and building standards. There is also some concern about the potential impact of Brexit. Effective and proportionate regulation is a positive enabler for business. It is important that the regulatory system is kept under review to ensure it remains up to date and fit for purpose, however, caring about the correct balance between efficiency and effectiveness.

These are exciting and challenging times for businesses and the British Safety Council is committed to leading the way in positioning safety, wellbeing and sustainability at the very heart of all our futures.