Research gives fresh insight into practices and perceptions of modern-day safety and health

The safety and health profession can be more confident in sharing its benefits to business and society but more flexible in incorporating new ideas, such as employee “workarounds”.

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Negative perceptions of health and safety appear more associated with “public” than “workplace” issues – members of the public are more supportive of efforts to promote safer workplaces than interventions out of work.

And the profession is having to adapt to address a variety of challenges presented by a rapidly changing world of work, from managing transient workforces to supporting smaller businesses that suspect “gold-plating” by practitioners of their safety and health policies and practices.

These were among a wide-ranging set of findings, published today, from one of the most ambitious programmes of research ever undertaken into the ways we protect people from ill health and injury in the workplace.

Commissioned by IOSH, research teams conducted six studies to shed new light on modern-day worker protection at a time when health and safety has been lambasted in sections of the media and become the subject of reviews into its regulatory frameworks.

The findings of IOSH's five year programme – Health and Safety in a Changing World – give fresh insight into the role safety and health is now playing in a world of transient or disparate workforces, automated production and economic and political uncertainty.

IOSH executive director of policy Shelley Frost said: “It is clear from our research that the modern-day safety and health practitioner faces multifarious challenges in their vital work to safeguard working people.

“Businesses, politicians and the media are posing questions of the profession and the system in which its members work, asking whether we need current levels of regulation and whether practitioners are being overzealous in their recommendations to employers.

“However, it is evident that safety and health is a stable system that is valued by business and the public at large. People do care that they and their loved ones are not placed in unnecessary risk at work. Our research programme underlines the need for the safety and health profession to be agile and open-minded in the face of change, and more confident in promoting the very many positive contributions it makes to our lives.”

IOSH’s five-year research programme set out to explore the landscape of occupational safety and health and its implications for developing solutions that provide effective protection for workers and their communities.

The professional body commissioned studies by teams from the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Loughborough University, Cranfield University and the universities of Nottingham, Reading and Portsmouth, under the direction of Professor Robert Dingwall.

The findings are examined in a book, Health and Safety in a Changing World, edited by Ms Frost and Prof Dingwall, which will be published by Routledge in early 2017. Papers on the research projects feature in the October 2016 edition of IOSH’s academic journal, Policy and Practice in Health and Safety (PPHS).

Prof Dingwall said: “IOSH’s investment in the research programme Health and Safety in a Changing World has delivered a rich resource for strategic thinking and discussion within the occupational safety and health [OSH] profession. In particular, it offers a deep analysis of the changing institutional contexts of work and employment, the evolution of management thinking and practices, and the emerging place of OSH within this.

“This analysis provides an opportunity to widely reflect on the fitness for purpose of established approaches to education, training and professional development and on the relationship between OSH professionals, managers and workers to ensure currency and connectivity of the profession in the world of work and society.”

For more details on the research programme and to read the full research reports, visit www.iosh.co.uk/changingworld

Phoenix comment “Health and safety can often have a negative reputation, particularly in the press, yet it is difficult to dispute the benefits that health and safety practitioners contribute to industry, the economy and public health. We welcome this research as we face the multifarious challenges of modern day health and safety practices to promote the positive contributions of our profession.”.