Opinion

Living with the unpredictable

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Looking back to this time last year, my review of 2018 focused on Brexit, economic anxiety from the high street to high profile bankruptcies, changing risks and a welcome upsurge of discussion about mental health in the workplace.


This year is ending with an election and many of these themes will continue throughout 2020 and I suspect into 2021. Change is constant and we all must find ways to live with the unpredictable.

One way is to get stuck in. For over 60 years the British Safety Council has been campaigning for the safety, health and wellbeing of workers. What has not changed in that time is the British Safety Council’s belief that people have a right to a healthy working life and that we have choices about how we bring this about. We do not believe that poor health, safety or wellbeing are inevitable in the face of enormous socio-economic or environmental pressures, whether technological, demographic or ecological. Our campaigns start from the premise that with evidence, change is possible.

With so many questions being raised about how we organise society, how it generates and distributes wealth and how to do so that is sustainable, none of us can afford to passively hope that uncertainty will go away. We are all involved whether we like it or not and, at a time when we are questioning received wisdom about how to protect people at work, we can at least ensure our voice is being heard. With you, our members, we can collectively bring all our experience and knowledge to effectively influence these changes.

Influencing efforts to improve our mental health at work remains a priority. I said last year that 2018 was a watershed year for mental health and in every field, the need to address mental health and remove stigma has seen some amazing achievements with high-profile endorsements. I continue to be proud of the role the British Safety Council has played in 2019 to support an ever-growing Mates in Mind to address deeply embedded stigmas about the mental health of workers.

What is not changing is the toll of poor mental health. HSE reports the number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018/19 have remained at 600,000 cases – the same as 2017/18. This accounts for 44 per cent of all work-related ill health cases and 54 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health. What they don’t tell us is the misery behind the numbers; alleviating their suffering is what drives us at the British Safety Council. We would also make the point that the country can ill-afford this loss of work, productivity and the demands placed on our healthcare system. Let’s make 2020 the year when we really hammer home this message in the workplace, in government and across the country.

British Safety Council staff helped launch Time to Breathe with a protest at Oxford Circus this year

In 2019 we hit the streets for our air pollution campaign, echoing the tactics of the British Safety Council of old under James Tye. This was a great success with more than 70 people attending our Oxford Circus demonstration calling for better protections for outdoor workers from toxic air. The coverage by the media was impressive and we had questions raised in Parliament.

However, I will be the first to admit that we’ve probably not done enough to explain to our members about what we’re up to and to thank you. None of this advocacy work will happen without your continued support. With our new head of policy, who just joined us, we will do better. Not only to influence change on the major risks that matter, ensuring the future is the one we want, rather than simply being the one we get; but also to better inform you about what we’re doing. Our voice is the summation of all your voices and I want you to know that when we speak, you are being listened to.

That just leaves me to wish you well for the rest of 2019 and hope to see you in the new year.

Mike Robinson FCA is chief executive of the British Safety Council

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