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Health and safety ranked as biggest risk and priority by global business leaders

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Health and safety has topped the list of risks to business after years of being ranked fourth or fifth, according to a new survey of global company directors published by law firm Clyde & Co.


The 2024 Global Directors’ and Officers’ Survey Report showed that health and safety was ranked as the number one risk by company bosses, ahead of risks such as cyber-attacks, data loss, regulatory breaches, systems and controls, bribery and corruption, and breach of sanctions.

Health and safety was ranked as the number one priority by business leaders for the first time in years. Photograph: iStock/Saksit Sangtong 

Surveys from the previous two years ranked health and safety as the fifth biggest perceived risk. In 2021, it was ranked fourth while in the pre-pandemic survey published in 2019, health, safety and environmental prosecutions came seventh. The survey was conducted with company directors in more than 50 countries across a range of sectors, and included private, listed, family-owned, non-profit and government-owned firms.

Its authors described health and safety topping this year’s risk list as “a genuinely surprising change”, adding: “It isn’t a surprise that so many people rank this risk so highly – it has been in the top seven risks for many years. What is surprising is that it has moved from being the fourth or fifth ranked risk for the last few years to being the number one risk this year.”

Part of the reason for this change could be because companies have become "more comfortable with managing cyber-attack and data-loss risks, rather than because health and safety has been re-prioritised”, the authors noted.

However, a greater focus on people’s mental health and wellbeing since the pandemic is also listed as a factor behind health and safety’s ascent to the top of the list.

Ben Horandi, an insurance advisor at National Grid, is quoted in Clyde & Co’s report as saying: “With regards to the increasing importance of health and safety risks for boards to consider, we shouldn't forget the focus on mental health, particularly following Covid-19 with home-working so much more common.”

This is backed up by a recent report on workplace wellbeing in the manufacturing sector by Make UK, which suggests that “businesses have prioritised increasing their investment in the health and wellbeing of their staff” in recent years.

“Our research shows that many manufacturers are evolving away from a ‘reactive’ model of health and wellbeing to a ‘proactive’, or interdependent, model,” said Make UK in its report. “This involves a shift in focus from using tools such as occupational health to manage sickness absence and employee performance, to also considering early-stage interventions to prevent sickness, as well as cultural change in areas such as flexible working to improve mental and physical wellbeing.”

According to the Make UK report, nearly half of manufacturing companies have increased their spending on health and wellbeing initiatives in the past year. Mental ill health was listed as the biggest cause of long-term sickness absences among manufacturing employees, accounting for almost 40 per cent of absences.

In its State of the Global Workforce report, Gallup found that overall employee wellbeing had declined in 2023. This decline was mostly felt by younger workers, with 31 per cent of under-35s reporting that they were thriving in their wellbeing – down from 35 per cent the previous year.

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