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A new perspective on safety: the growing importance of mental health in workplaces


A new perspective on safety: the growing importance of mental health in workplaces

The UK government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that despite significant progress in addressing workplace health and safety risks in recent years, around 1.7 million Britons suffered from some form of work-related illness in 2021. This result signalled a departure from the past two decades, when levels of work-related illness remained largely flat.

The uptick in work-related illness primarily related to increased levels of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with the coronavirus pandemic contributing to the sharp rise. In fact, 645,000 workers reported that they suffered from a work-related illness made worse or caused by the coronavirus – with stress, depression or anxiety accounting for a full 70% of these illnesses.

By contrast, other HSE statistics continued on the downward trend seen in recent years. According to the UK Labour Force Survey, 441,000 people sustained a non-fatal injury while at work. And while this may seem a very high number, the rate per 100,000 across the UK’s population has been falling steadily and is lower than many European countries. Rates of musculoskeletal disorders also continued to fall.

The results show that the HSE regime continues to work well in reducing physical injuries and disorders that occur in workplaces. But potentially, it may be time to strengthen efforts on preventing and managing mental health issues in the workplace.

Closing the safety gap across nations and suppliers

Despite some improvements in injury rates, workplace injury and illness rates still have an enormous impact on businesses and the economy. New data was not available for 2020/21, but in 2018 alone, a staggering 30 million working days were lost. These are shocking figures – all the more so because many of these cases are avoidable. Although the UK’s injury rates are below those of some European countries, other countries are showing that there is still room for improvement.

In our recent Health and Safety Trends report, a significant gap was revealed between the number of major incidents reported by companies in the UK, in Spain and in Norway. Spanish companies reported four times as many major injuries than the UK. But, by extreme contrast, Norwegian companies reported two-thirds fewer injuries than the UK.

The reason for these dramatic differences is simple: there is a direct correlation between the number of major injuries and the lack of documented health and safety management systems, particularly among Spanish companies. In other words, having a documented health and safety management system is an extremely important step in making workers safer. And those companies that actively manage health and safety at work provide a much safer working environment.

As buyers increasingly look to assure the safety of their supply chains, suppliers that do not have a documented health and safety programme will find themselves eligible for fewer tenders. Meanwhile suppliers that are looking to strengthen their safety programme to pre-empt future requirements should review how comprehensively they’ve addressed mental health in their safety initiatives.

Creating a culture of health and safety

Despite the clear link between good safety outcomes and a documented health and safety programme, 21% of our suppliers still report they don’t have a documented programme. This data shows it is essential that buyers looking to assure the safety of their supply chains understand how many of their suppliers have a documented health and safety programme in place. By insisting on a documented system and using safe suppliers, they can improve safety and save lives. By identifying where programmes are not in place, buyers can identify and mitigate risks to safety.

Companies looking to help their suppliers enhance their health and safety programmes should consider including an assessment of how well a supplier has considered mental health issues. Growing awareness of mental health issues and their impact on workers and productivity is likely to lead to greater stakeholder scrutiny in coming years.

Alongside greater scrutiny is a growing expectation of accountability for companies. The UK’s Failure to Prevent Act means that a company can be found guilty of a secondary offence if it fails to prevent an ‘associated person’ from committing an offence. One key way to avoid liability is to ensure you have robust policies and procedures in place to prevent the offence from occurring.

Assuring end-to-end compliance

Transparency in health and safety is essential to every buying organisation – not just for those in high-risk industries like chemicals, energy and heavy engineering. But for many businesses, particularly those with complex, multi-tiered supply chains, achieving this can be challenging without the right professional support.

We can help buying organisations ensure full compliance with applicable legislation and audit suppliers’ management systems to mitigate the risks of workplace illness, injuries and accidents. Ultimately, our services can ensure you only engage suppliers that meet your expectations and share your values, making your supply chain as safe as possible, saving lives and preventing injuries.

Although we provide an extra layer of due diligence, we work nimbly to ensure you never miss a beat. We can deliver our services wherever you need us, completing hundreds of audits annually in multiple languages and locations. And our experience of working with international standards and industry bodies means we can always provide you with the right questions and risk models, no matter how complex your supply chain may be.

Removing uncertainty

Our services start with a detailed pre-qualification questionnaire, which includes the collection and verification of data relating to all aspects of health and safety. We have already completed over 175,000 of these, removing any uncertainty around working with new suppliers for buyers right across the world as well as helping to strengthen existing relationships.

Once a supplier relationship is up and running, we also offer audits to measure the effectiveness of – and compliance with – suppliers’ management systems. And our services enable you to ensure you only work with suppliers that have policies and practices that not only assure the quality and conformity of your products but also show that they share your commitment to safeguarding employees and contractors.

Get in touch to learn more.

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