IOSH outlines significant risks to staff in new report

  • Occupational Health
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

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Extreme heat, infectious diseases, environmental degradation, and new technologies are among the significant risks IOSH outlines in its new report, 'Towards a safe and healthy future of work', which looks at the future of health and safety.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)’s report is published jointly with sustainable development experts, Arup. It is based on a survey of 1,000 platform-based workers operating in the gig economy, which includes delivery jobs to freelance tasks on specific projects.

Results of the survey show that two in five platform workers say they have experienced stress caused or made worse by their work in the past year, with a third complaining of tiredness or exhaustion.

58% of respondents said working for an online platform resulted in them having unpredictable income, making it difficult to pay bills. The same number say it causes difficulty caring for dependants, including children and elderly relatives.

Meanwhile, 63% say it impacts their ability to take holidays and 54% say they have low levels of job security.

All of this is a problem, IOSH asserts, because of the prospect that this type of employment could overtake secure employment as the most common source of primary income. If regulations, attitudes and working practices remain the same, this could lead to fewer social protections for workers.

An estimated 7,500 people die every day from unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, the report states. With this in mind, it asks how the world of work will change in the coming years. The report poses a number of ‘what-if’ questions aimed at governments, businesses and the health and safety profession that IOSH represents, outlining actions required to ensure people are protected in and out of work.

Questions arise concerning advances in technology, and whether it could create new health, safety and wellbeing risks. The report also asks if monitoring devices could alert bosses to a worker’s health condition before they know about it.

IOSH makes a case for ‘calls to action’, saying there is a clear need for strong, robust and modern health and safety regulation which takes account of the changing world of work. In addition, the drive in some countries for deregulation (including the UK) risks weakening health and safety standards.

The solution lies not with any single entity, argues the report. Government, businesses, health and safety professionals and IOSH itself all have an important role to play in shaping positive health, safety and wellbeing outcomes.

The report calls on governments to ratify the International Labour Organization conventions relating to health and safety. They also have the powerr to protect and preserve human rights, decent work and worker protection in the face of new and emerging hazards. Government must also review and update regulations to ensure health and safety risks are addressed.

Businesses should support sustainable development and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, identify and address existing and emerging health and safety risks, and include health and safety management in their organisational strategies.

The health and safety profession have a responsibility to deliver these changes on the ground. Their role is to contribute and support the implementation of sustainable work practices, to argue for health and safety to be a central consideration in the development of new technologies, and to ensure it keeps up to date with changes to be able to continue to advise businesses.

Ruth Wilkinson CMIOSH, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH, said:

“We face the future with a real sense of excitement and opportunity, but also with caution and uncertainty. What we know for certain is that the world of work will continue to change, but we don’t know for sure how this will play out and evolve.

“Our report highlights this, focusing on how new technologies and digitalisation are creating opportunities to improve how people are protected at work but also showing that this can create new hazards and risks to health and safety, all of which need to be managed.

“Among the changes that have already happened is a rise in gig work. To explore these findings further, the results of our survey show people working in the gig economy are really struggling, which is of real concern and requires action.

“This action needs to be collective. We need to work together as a profession with governments, businesses and other professions to manage the changes to work carefully, to design, consult upon, risk assess, and implement new technologies sensibly and, crucially, to ensure that people can go home from work safe and well every day.”

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