Five things we learned from HSE’s Health and Work conference

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HSE held its Health and Work conference as a live stream event today on 16 November. Here are five things that we took away from the event.

1. Artificial Intelligence is coming to the world of workplace wellbeing

AI will be used increasingly for worker surveillance and proactive healthcare management at work. Dr Noorzaman Rashid, Chief Executive at the Chartered Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors said he knew of firms looking at how data on employee health can be used to make interventions. “It’s the first stage of reinventing work. We will have stronger ways of looking at wellbeing,” he said positively. On the negative, Dr Peter Buckle, at Imperial College’s department of Surgery and Cancer, said remote working could increase the appetite for AI. “There is pressure on employers to show that their workers are productive – surveillance will creep in – people will be monitored and that could add to stress.”

Performance may start to be measured more on output rather than hours, said Francoise Woolley, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Acas

2. Climate change is getting personal

COP26 may have ended, but the role of businesses to support the globally agreed agendas on human rights, sustainability and emissions reduction has only just begun. Ruth Wilkinson, Head of Health and Safety at IOSH highlighted their Catch the Wave campaign, which pushes for companies to invest in their people as part of a sustainable business model. “We’re looking for a cultural shift – so that when we talk about sustainability, the health and safety and wellbeing of people are in there too,” she said. Chartered occupational psychologist, Emma Donaldson-Feilder, said that anxiety about climate change is a response to our ‘increasingly complex’ world. “There’s a lot happening… and we need to think how that impacts on individuals.”

3. We have a once in a lifetime chance to mobilise people to act on workplace health

Workers in some sectors are testing almost daily for a potentially fatal respiratory disease (coronavirus), yet for years we have struggled to bring down high numbers of cases of respiratory disease like asbestosis and lung disease. Buckle said we must not lose the opportunity from the Pandemic to change behaviours: “There has been an enormous shift in thinking about responsibilities for health. How we can build on that? We need to work with that momentum so that we are engaging with workforces to improve work health in way we could never have done before. If we lose that opportunity, it will be disappointing.”

4. Output not hours is key to appraising performance

Francoise Woolley, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Acas, said that remote working is forcing employers to re-evaluate how they assess performance. “Jobs should be built on trust rather than time in office and performance based on output rather than hours.”  

5. Prevention is becoming part of how we measure success

The focus is moving from counting how many people become ill through work – or have to miss work through illness – to how effective preventative measures are to prevent ill health, said Kevin Bampton Chief Executive Officer of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). “COPD, lung diseases, they rob the workplace of skilled people. If we do things to prevent those the workplace is richer.”

HSE's head of the health and work programme, Peter Brown, said the pandemic has “led to a realisation that the workplace is a setting that you have to think about health.”: “We have struggled as a regulator to deal with health because of the lack of ‘ouch factor’ – the pandemic made people more aware of health issues at work.” Dr Rashid argued that employers should report on health, safety and wellbeing in their annual accounts. “More boards need to be encouraged to discuss health and safety as a top item.”

Sarah Albon, HSE's chief executive speaking at the close of HSE's digital conference on Tuesday




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