To deliver lasting improvements to worker health and safety, companies must take advantage of the greater focus on worker wellbeing to embed a strong health and safety culture. Increased disclosure of workplace health and safety practices can help to achieve this.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the spotlight on company health and safety practices
COVID-19 had unprecedented impacts on worker health and wellbeing globally.
Workers were exposed to the physical health risks of COVID-19 infection and many have been unable to return to full-time work. The increased stress, social isolation and economic uncertainty of the pandemic increased both the number and severity of work-related mental health conditions.
Companies responded by focusing in on their health and safety practices.
According to data from the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) - whose annual survey and engagement programme provides companies and investors with comprehensive and comparable data on workforce practices - 94 per cent of companies took steps to protect the physical and mental health of workers during the pandemic.
Companies proactively introduced measures including social distancing, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing for workers. They also increased mental health training, company-wide mental health days and extra paid leave.
These immediate measures helped to create awareness of the risks to workers and protect them from harm.
But more needs to be done to protect workers
Companies that are open about health and safety have better practices and are more accountable to their investors and other stakeholders. 97 per cent of companies responding to the WDI three or more times consulted workers on health and safety policies. This is compared to only 75 per cent of companies responding for the first or second time.
But companies need to be much more transparent about their health and safety practices.
Only 68 per cent of companies responding to the WDI made survey data on health and safety public in 2021, compared to 91 per cent prior to the pandemic.
Company health and safety systems neglect certain types of workers. WDI data shows that 62 per cent of company measures to ensure unwell workers took leave did not include contractors or agency workers. These workers typically undertake more hazardous work, are less experienced, have less bargaining power and are less aware of their occupational health and safety rights.
There are also startling gaps in coverage in certain sectors and countries. Of companies responding to the WDI, only 33 and 35 per cent of companies from the healthcare and industrial sectors, and just 29 per cent of all US companies, monitored and reported on the mental health of their workforce.
Company actions make the difference
Company improvements to health and safety in the 21st century have already reduced work-related fatalities significantly. However, more can be done to make work-related injury, death and mental health challenges a thing of the past.
Company health and safety culture and practices determine outcomes for workers. Features of a strong health and safety culture include:
- transparency on health and safety practices
- trust between management and workers and a shared view of the importance of safety
- policies which emphasise work/life balance
- a focus on connection, vulnerability and compassion in worker relationships
- a culture of equality which acknowledges the challenges faced by minority groups
Companies with good health and safety practices have workforces with higher levels of trust and productivity, higher company performance and lower costs.
Companies need to act now on health and safety
Companies need to make the most of the increased focus on worker wellbeing to improve health and safety culture. Improved workforce disclosure can help achieve this. We urge companies to respond to the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) and be part of the movement towards more ambitious disclosure standards and increasing the provision of good jobs worldwide.
If you want any further information, you can reach out to WDI Senior Company Engagement Manager Rosie Mackenzie at Rosie.Mackenzie@shareaction.org