What are the biggest barriers to addressing OHS risks?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 8 October, 2021 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

Almost 80 per cent of HR and risk professionals globally believe their organisations recognise health and safety risks as a serious threat to the business, however, there are a number of impediments to actively addressing these risks, according to recent research.

The top three difficulties organisations encounter when addressing health and safety risks include lack of skilled resources to understand and address the risk (41 per cent), lack of senior leadership engagement (33 per cent) and budget constraints to manage the exposure (30 per cent).

The research was conducted by Mercer Marsh Benefits and took in more than 1380 HR professionals and risk managers across Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa, North America, the Pacific, and the United Kingdom.

The research also found coping with work pressure and behavioural health concerns are at the very top of employers’ agendas, and people risks likely to impact businesses include deteriorating mental health (54 per cent), workforce exhaustion (52 per cent) and communicable health conditions (48 per cent).

While organisations have always faced people-related risks, the Five Pillars of People Risk report found these have been particularly pronounced during the pandemic.

“People-related exposures, such as health and safety, governance and digitisation have been rapidly rising up risk registers and are gaining increased board attention,” the report said.

“In part, this trend has been accelerated as the pandemic clearly showed that threats to the health and well-being of the workforce threaten the overall resilience and success of a business.”

An increased number of firms are experiencing workforce exhaustion, caused by work-life balance issues, change fatigue and too many priorities and distractions.

“This often leads to errors, high employee turnover, reduced productivity and even damaged reputation,” the report said.

Further, the pandemic has caused deteriorating mental health with more people than ever suffering from anxiety, stress, depression and addiction.

The business impacts can be severe, including low productivity, escalating benefits spend and damage to employment value proposition and brand.

In addition, COVID-19 clearly demonstrated the acute business impacts of communicable health conditions such as infectious diseases and pandemics.

“While the immediate risks are better known, consequences to be aware of include poor business continuity, operational cost escalation and lower overall individual and organisational performance,” the report said.

Work-related illness or injury including accidents, unsafe exposure, security incidents or aggravation of pre-existing conditions in a work environment (whether onsite or remote) all can carry severe legal, financial and reputational consequences.

Unmanaged non-communicable health conditions including diabetes, lung disease and cancer impact business resilience, leading to higher costs and weaker organisational performance.

“HR and risk managers will be grappling to understand root issues and successful interventions over the coming weeks, months and years,” the report said.

“It’s likely that a combination of factors are at play, including physical health, mental health, grief, job design, supervisory and leadership skills, Zoom fatigue and caregiving stresses.”