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The Journal for Employee Protection
The Journal for Employee Protection
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The coronavirus pandemic brought occupational health & safety management into the spotlight. Never before has it been discussed so publicly: How can new and healthy ways of working be put into practice? What are the long-term psychosocial risks of today’s measures? And how can hygiene concepts protect employees adequately in the workplace? How do specialists and managers cope with answering these questions for their companies and implementing these measures? What influence is the pandemic having on the field of occupational health and safety and what challenges do practitioners face?
Quentic, one of the leading Software as a Service providers for health, safety and environmental management, explores these questions in its latest Safety Management Trend Report. The company spoke with eleven internationally renowned experts from the field, including Prof. Andrew Sharman, former President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH); Prof. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School; and Davide Scotti, EHS expert and Secretary General for the Leadership in Health and Safety (LHS) Foundation.
Greater appreciation for Occupational Health and Safety practitioners
To complement the expert perspectives, Quentic surveyed more than 600 occupational safety practitioners from across Europe about the conditions and state of safety management in their day-to-day work as well as on their priorities for the year 2021. One encouraging result of this survey is that around half of the respondents said they had noticed a greater general appreciation for their work and related topics as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Only eight percent perceived a deterioration of the perception of health and safety related topics.
The experts interviewed also share this perception. Health and safety is “no longer in the bottom of the league” (Davide Scotti) and professionals experience excitement and recognition because their managers are listening to them (Andrew Sharman).
As responsibility increases, so do the challenges
Nevertheless, the sector is facing major challenges. While almost three-quarters of respondents described their work as positively challenging before the crisis, the figure slipped to below 60 percent by fall 2020, when the survey was conducted. At the same time, the proportion of those who find their work challenging in a negative way has actually doubled during the pandemic, from just under 15 percent to more than 30 percent.
The reasons for this perception are manifold, but the expert panel points out how diverse and extensive the tasks of occupational health and safety managers were already expected to handle before the pandemic. As Timo Kronlöf, EHS expert and product manager at Quentic, emphasizes in his interview with Andrew Sharman: “Safety managers have to keep up, while they already have a variety of responsibilities. They are responsible for managing the physical and psychological health of the workers, for wellbeing and many also for quality or environment.”
Responsibilities of safety managers increase in a global context
Indeed, many experts also believe that occupational safety and health is becoming increasingly integrated into a more holistic framework, one that incorporates topics such as globalization, digitization and sustainability. They highlight the importance of a multifaceted approach that combines all safety-related aspects with environmental and sustainability goals as well as strengthening digital processes. All measures and learnings from the pandemic must now be translated into long-term strategies. And these should put a special focus on safety culture, as this is regarded a key to making companies resilient for future challenges. Hence, safety managers need not only to be competent from a content perspective, but also show leadership to engage their colleagues in safety.
Mental health is a major priority
Another aspect that has been reinforced by the pandemic and influences safety culture significantly is the aspect of psychological risks. As Prof. Amy Edmondson points out, psychological safety is the key to the kingdom of physical safety. Only in an environment where everybody can “bring their authentic voice to work” can a culture of openness protect from new risks. Related to this topic is a broader discussion about well-being along with the potentially negative consequences of new ways of working, in particular with respect to working from home. Stress, feelings of isolation or dissolution of boundaries between private and work life are some of the key topics addressed by the expert panel. Safety practitioners are well aware of these risks and have stated in the survey that they consider awareness for well-being and mental strain to be a key topic to focus on when building a ‘New Normal’ after the pandemic.
Leadership must be practiced at all levels
What all these topics have in common is that they are not new, but they have overtaken many other tasks in terms of urgency in the current crisis. Accordingly, the experts stress the aspect of training and development for occupational health and safety practitioners to develop their skills in such a way that they can adequately meet these new challenges. Leadership is part of that, as Andrew Sharman points out: “Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a behavior. We all have the potential to be leaders, because leadership is a skill. There is a need for leadership across the entire organization.”
In any case, the specialists are prepared to live up to their leadership responsibility and to face the coming hurdles with passion. However, they would equally like to see more support from management and decision-makers in their important endeavor to engage their colleagues in occupational safety and health.
The Safety Management Trend Report can be downloaded for free at www.quentic.com/safety-trends. Other important topics discussed in the industry report include:
– The most important success indicators and motivational methods in occupational safety and health
– The attractiveness of the occupational field for young career starters
– Occupational safety and health in the context of globalization and digitalization
Quentic is one of the leading solution providers of Software as a Service in the European EHS and CSR market. The company is headquartered in Berlin and employs more than 175 people. Quentic maintains branch offices and collaborates closely with partners in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, as well as in Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Over 600 customers strengthen their EHS and CSR management with Quentic software solutions.
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