NEWS: British Safety Council conference looks ahead to challenges in 2019

“In 20 years’ time over 11 million jobs could be lost in the UK, approximately 30 per cent of the workforce,” said Mike Robinson, speaking at British Safety Council's annual conference, 'health and safety for uncertain times'.

Citing extraordinary examples of how technology has been dismissed in the past, from the car to the iPhone, British Safety Council's chief executive said we must be prepared for big changes. “If you think that tech won’t change the world, what we have witnessed so far is really the tip of the technology iceberg.”

With mental health said to have reached historic levels of attention in 2018, translating awareness to change in the year ahead “is not going to be a walk in the park”, Sir Paul Kenny, HSE board member predicted. He said getting managers to take responsibility for the mental health of their staff will be a particular challenge, because it’s about “admitting there’s a problem” and in some cases perhaps owning up to mistakes such as imposing too heavy workloads on staff. 

Asked about the stress management standards, he said HSE was trialling new standards in schools and prisons. “HSE is pleased to be offering support and guidance,” he said. But he added that in his own experience, “it’s the economic argument that twists it, that gets employers to change their ways.”

Sir Paul Kenny speaking at the annual conference last year

Virtual reality (VR) now supplements the learning experience on many of the British Safety Council’s training courses. Head of digital James Mansbridge said: “Virtual reality is ideal for skill- based learning. We learn by doing, by repetition and habit. VR is a safe environment in which to make mistakes, which you can learn from.” He said he’s seen the tool act as a powerful catalyst for conversations about risk: “VR is useful to challenge ideas.”

Looking ahead to Brexit, British Safety Council chair, Lawrence Waterman said that politicians who call for an end to regulations that impact on people’s health and safety should be seen as ‘extremists’.

Safety Management asked three speakers, what causes you most uncertainty for health and safety? Here are their answers. 

“With Brexit there’s a real risk we look at things very coldly and economically. To say, regulations [such as the Working Time directive] cost this much and stop us being as productive as the US. Fine, maybe it does but the US fatal rate is six times higher. To my mind, the trade-off is not working. I think there’ll be a lot of rhetoric over the next few months, which is great in giving short term stability but [down the line] with the political changes, everything is to play for.” Dan Shears, national health and safety officer, GMB

Dan Shears

“The uncertainty lies in potential changes to health and safety regulation over time which could impact on workers protection and welfare. In terms of ISO 45001, its explicit requirements placed on top management in an organisation should help drive commitment and therefore improve leadership. This should include mental health and wellbeing issues.” David Parr, policy and technical director, the British Safety Council

The uncertain thing is what the future will look and what the risks will be created for people’s health. What health issues will people be bringing to work? That’s really unpredictable. Instead of jumping for a tick box off the shelf solution, everything’s going to have to be bespoke to the changing world and the changing workforce. Clare Forshaw, Occupational Health & Hygiene Partner, Park Health & Safety

The 10th British Safety Council annual conference: health and safety in uncertain times, was held at Congress Centre in London on 14 November 2018. For more events taking place this year visit the website here