Ways of Managing Safety and Health at Work

April 24, 2023


Delphine Caprez

History of World Day for Safety and Health at Work

Since 2003, the International Labour Organization (ILO) decided to dedicate every 28 April to World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This International Day was created to honour and help prevent the 6500 deaths that happen daily due to work-related accidents or illnesses. Approximately 2.4 million workers die yearly because of occupational accidents or illnesses. Sounds like a lot, don't you think?

While last year's theme was Participation and Social Dialogue, the 2023 theme is Safe and Healthy Working Environment as a Fundamental Principle and Right at Work. In link with this sentence from ILO website: At its 110th Session in June 2022, the International Labour Conference decided to amend paragraph 2 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work  (1998) to include "a safe and healthy working environment" as a fundamental principle and right at work, and to make consequential amendments to the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization  (2008) and the Global Jobs Pact  (2009). 

At the Resilience Institute, we decided to spotlight how a safe and healthy working environment can help you and your organization achieve performance with care

To do so, here are a few extracts from the book Performance-Bienveillance, Osez le Care-Isme, Editions Management & Société, 2021, written by Philippe Courrèges, Head of Safety, Health and Environment at a Global Food Company and Delphine Caprez, one of our Senior Associate Consultants at the Resilience Institute:

According to European Community surveys on working conditions, nearly 30% of workers feel that their work activity puts their health at risk, mainly through back pain, joint pain linked to repetitive movements or painful physical postures (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2019).

What is true for the physical consequences of occupational exposure is even more true for psychological disorders. Psychosocial risks have exploded in recent years, not only because the subject has only recently been finally addressed.

Psychological risks have also exploded because of the loss of meaning at and of work, fragmentation, and uberization. Especially since many studies have shown the close link between MSDs (musculoskeletal disorder) and psychological risks, and MSDs and the quality of interpersonal relations within organizations. Hopefully, one day, MSDs will have to be recognized for what they are, i.e., more a marker of psychological discomfort than a simple consequence of physical constraints.

Add to that the acceleration of our lives in a VUCA context, in a post-pandemic and war atmosphere, and everything is set to go wrong.

Bore-out, burn-out, and brown-out, many pathologies show how work can heavily impact health and resilience. As a result, organizations in most sectors of activity are beginning to address (or starting to address) psychosocial risks.

How can we explain that, despite the progress made, we still lament that every year so many men and women are affected in their bodies and their mental equilibrium by work-related accidents, occupational illnesses, stress, exhaustion, etc?

Ways of Managing Safety and Health at Work

1. Start by (really!) integrating the topics into the functioning of your organization and the overall business strategy.

Why do so many organizations still have to assert and reaffirm that health and safety are their priority with slogans like "Safety first" or "the health of our employees is our first priority"?

Without going so far as to consider those as mantras or catchphrases that are waved to protect us from bad luck, it often hides the fact that the reality is different and the maturity insufficient, which can question the place of health and safety within the organization.

2. Then it's time for a cultural revolution that would involve the development (and the use!) of proper risk management indicators. Don't focus on counting the number of accidents or work-related illnesses, as it's counterproductive as past performance is not always indicative of future performance. Do you drive your car looking only at the rear mirror? Measure instead: 

  • Health and Safety Feedback, given and received, as well as their quality and relevance.
  • Resilience Ratio, using the resilience diagnostic we use at the Resilience Institute, you can track and measure the positive evolution of the overall resilience ratio.
  • Improved employee perception of their working conditions - Research shows that it is not so much corporate health & well-being programs that improve employee health and productivity, but rather employee perception of them. It is important that employees perceive that their employer truly cares and wants to take care of their health and well-being. Never forget: my perception is my reality!

3. Challenge the attachment of the function where it should sit. Whether in HR, Engineering, Production, Operations, Quality, Inclusion & Diversity, or Finance, as we've seen it done, rest assured, no matter where it sits, it will be the wrong decision! However, what is important is at what level in the organization chart, as that is what will demonstrate the importance you bring to the subject. And as you can imagine, the higher in the org chart, the more impact it will have.

4. And finally, question the profile of your health and safety professionals. It's about thinking about what you want to do and not limiting your ambitions because you've always done it that way. Ask yourself what type of occupational health and safety specialists you need concerning your organization's culture: fatalistic, professional, managerial, or integrated culture. These profiles refer to different skills, aspirations, and roles. Because today there is too often confusion of roles. This confusion is reinforced by the recent evolution of organizations, working methods, management styles and employee aspirations. We find ourselves asking strategists or consultants to control or auditors to do strategy. To paraphrase Clémenceau, a French Maréchal from WWI: "war is a too serious matter to entrust to the military!"

Would you achieve performance with care once you've addressed the above elements? Maybe, maybe not. To ensure Safe and Healthy working environment will help you and your organization achieve performance with care, make a roadmap answering the questions: from where I started, where I want to go, and how I want to get there. 

For that, you need to:

  • Collect as much health and safety data as possible and analyze them properly ("Without data, you are just another person without an opinion", W. Edwards Deming)
  • Listen, listen and listen, and then speak with your leaders, line managers, employees, first aiders, and people in charge of safety and health (nurse, psychologist and occupational physician, coaches, etc).
  • Do not do more, do better
  • Choose your battles carefully. The aim of the actions decided is to prevent the most severe risks. For the rest, accept the little scratches. First, because little scratches are formative and not to discredit your approach. Preventing paper cuts is good, but preventing burnouts - if necessary, by removing toxic managers - is definitively what employees really want (and need) from their organization.
  • Accompany your managers and group leaders towards care-ism so they can show compassion, vulnerability, and courage while trusting.
  • Reaffirm employees' individual and collective responsibility, whatever the hierarchical level.
  • And last but not least, evaluate, measure, track, and adjust what needs to be done and changed, often and appropriately. 

Happy Safety & Health Day at Work!


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