There is no doubt that uncertainty – and its closely associated twin, anxiety – have been the defining words of 2018.
The collapse of Carillion at the start of the year seemed to set the tone. Brexit, of course, is creating great anxiety as its causes and consequences rampage across our social, economic and political landscape.
Deeper than that are the technological developments that are changing how we relate to each other, how we buy and consume, and how we work; and this technological revolution shows no sign of abating.
At the beginning of 2018 we published a report into how these developments are impacting on our wellbeing and how they might intensify in the future. Titled Future risk: Impact of work on safety, health and wellbeing, the research literature is very clear that changes to how we work; for example 24/7 working and the ‘always on’ culture, – can reduce mental wellbeing and people’s ability to cope with work pressure. But it also shows that though ‘change’ is being well documented, research into what this change might mean for us, our wellbeing or even our identity, is woefully thin.
Pockets of innovation are taking place though. A recent radio analysis of nudge economics explored how Cowry Consulting had worked with a construction firm to reduce accidents by encouraging workers to be more mindful in their work (as part of a broader, more traditional, risk management approach).
One of their solutions to paint the canteen a shade of pink was initially met with great scepticism from the workers. Yet, the research indicates that colour can impact on our mental wellbeing and certain colours can unconsciously slow and calm thinking and improve decision making. Our recent poster competition on wellbeing made a similar argument.
The technological change we are witnessing means that those of us interested in how we protect the health and wellbeing of workers must also embrace these tools.
2018 has seen the British Safety Council develop field work in India, after the opening of our office in Mumbai a year ago. From a new bespoke monthly magazine for Indian readers to the significant increase in our reach through a locally-based team, the scope for the development of occupational health in India is tremendous and we are already trying to make our impact.
In addition, we have also introduced the use of virtual reality and augmented reality tools for training. By immersing learners in risk-scenarios we can take hazard spotting and risk analysis to a new level. We have also been working with King’s College London to develop an innovative mobile app to help outdoor workers and employers to reduce exposure to air pollution. Look out for this in 2019.
Technology does give us new means to meet modern challenges. Yet, for every opportunity, new challenges arise. Recent news about the use of microchips implanted in workers in a tech company in the United States is concerning.
Though discussion about this topic is generally about the convenience for workers – purchasing lunch or no need to remember passwords – there are darker implications that will need to be watched carefully. I’m not convinced that the public appetite for such things is anywhere near where it should be.
Where public appetite is strong and where I think 2018 has been a watershed year, is on mental health. In every field, from the workplace – including the army – to the home, the need to address mental health and remove stigma has seen some amazing achievements with high-profile endorsements.
I am very proud of the role the British Safety Council has played to support Mates in Mind which will near 200 supporters by the year’s close, reaching over 150,000 workers with help and support. The programme is directly tackling deeply embedded stigmas about the mental health of workers in construction.
That just leaves me to wish you well for the rest of 2018 and to say a special thank you to all our members who are helping us make the future of work the future we want.
Mike Robinson is chief executive of the British Safety Council
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