HSE & Sustainability

Health and Safety Survey Underscores Workplace Changes

Leadership engagement is needed to drive health and safety performance in a world of work in an increasing state of flux, according to a survey conducted by ERM.

Oil Worker at Dusk
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Research from sustainability consultancy firm ERM has revealed that organizations are experiencing unprecedented change as the workforce composition and the nature and place of work evolve rapidly while expectations and risks around health and safety increase.

The ERM 2024 Global Health and Safety Survey, based on insights from 256 health and safety function leaders from companies employing 11 million people, saw the majority of participants (94%) report increased expectations from their stakeholders over the past 3 years and 80% anticipate expectations will continue to rise.

“The expectations of the health and safety profession have transformed in recent years from a technical, compliance-led function into a fast-changing, business-critical enabler of human performance and organizational culture change,” said Valery Kucherov, global service leader for safety and risk at ERM.

Health and safety functions, however, appear to be struggling to keep pace with the changing stakeholder needs; only 2% of respondents said health and safety professionals are fully equipped to do so.

"The ever-increasing levels of investment in H&S show that businesses are striving to keep up with the rising expectations and pace of change,” Kucherov said.

Risk Factors
The findings reflect the challenges businesses face in keeping pace with shifts in the workplace and managing increased risk. For example, 63% of respondents anticipate increased use of contractors in the next 3 years, yet almost two-thirds (65%) say that health and safety is more difficult to manage for contractors than for their own employees. Of the 567 fatalities reported by the survey participants in the past 3 years, 65% involved contractors.

Psychosocial risk factors and the mental health challenges that arise from them were identified as a growing source of concern by 87% of participants, and most organizations (84%) reported having adopted measures to drive improvement in their management of psychosocial risk factors. The constant pressure to perform at work, a faster pace of work, increased workload, and an “always-on” environment were among the top factors reportedly giving rise to increased concern about mental health.

“There is increasing complexity in protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of people at work arising from fundamental changes in the work, those engaging in the work, and where the work is done,” said Brian Kraus, safety transformation services director at ERM and lead for the 2024, 2021, and 2018 studies. “Substantive challenges identified in the earlier studies remain, despite broad-based commitment, increasing engagement from leaders and investment in H&S processes, programs, tools, technology and training. This is not a new conclusion, but for many the gap is widening.”

Health and Safety Investment
The survey found companies reporting investing heavily in health and safety in an effort to keep pace with changes. Participants reported increasing their investments in health and safety by 26% on average in the past 3 years and anticipate a further 20% increase in the next 3 years. Most (88%) survey participants reported deploying new technologies in the past 3 years, and six of the top 10 investments in health and safety reportedly were directed at harnessing new technologies and artificial intelligence to improve health and safety performance. Data analytics (cited by 44%) tops the list for technology investments priorities in the next 3 years, followed by automation and robotics in second place (cited by 33%).

Leadership Engagement
The majority of participants (87%) said they believe that leadership engagement is the most powerful way to drive improvement in health and safety performance. Although 81% reported higher levels of leadership engagement in the past 3 years, only 7% said they feel their leaders are spending sufficient time engaging on health and safety.

"Our survey findings call for a pause for meaningful reflection on the way forward, not more of the same,” Kraus said. “Senior organizational leaders and the H&S profession have a crucial role to play in leading the change in a context where expectations for the health and safety of the workforce from every stakeholder group continue to ratchet up, year on year, with no peak in sight."

Find the full report here.