Human Resources

Can data make Health and Safety better?

The following is a contributed article by Liam Butler, VP of EMEA Sales for SumTotal


Good news: recent UK Government legislation has limited the working day to only 12 hours.

This was the new ‘improved’ working conditions that those working in factories in 1802 were supposed to be happy about hearing. As well as allowing some time for rest, the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act also stipulated that employers had to open the windows and clean the premises at least twice a year. This was about the extent of the legislation yet even this was not able to help create any meaningful change, the result being the same lethal and exploitative working conditions for millions of workers across the land.

But despite being both limited in scope and an absolute failure in the short term, this Act would prove to be the first step on what has been over two-hundred years of progress to guarantee workers safety and rights in the workplace. This week, countries across the world will celebrate ‘Health and Safety at Work Day’. As social media hashtags mingle with office initiatives, the very notion of such a day would have seemed like something out of a science fiction novel for those around for the Factory Act, 1891, which finally made it the law for employers to provide adequate means to escape in a fire!

Today, 28th April, is International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers, organized worldwide since 1996. From 2003, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been involved, focusing not simply on commemoration but prevention, promoting the global observation of ‘Health and Safety at Work Day’. Every year focusses on a different theme, this year being the need for companies across to world to “improve their capacity to collect and utlize reliable occupational safety and health (OSH) data”

This focus on data reflects wider trends across a range of industries to push resources into capturing, understanding and then using the data that is available to them. What a change from even 20 years ago where Government proposals to ban smoking in the workplace were considered “radical”, despite more than enough evidence to suggest that nicotine stained white shirts and a chorus of  spluttering was not good for the health.

Although the focus this year is on data, last year’s theme of ‘Workplace Stress’ is perhaps still the most relevant for the modern age, and the best indicator of how the idea of health and safety itself has evolved over the years. Whereas up until only the last 40-50 years, thoughts would have turned instantly to physical injury, the idea of psychological health has become just as important when it comes to protecting employees. The Institute of Directors recently called on the Government to do more to help start a conversation on mental health in the workplace, reflecting what has been a surge of activity and interest from media, businesses and NGO’s on the issue. Despite the calls for more to be done, many reports suggest that there is still a lot of discrimination in the workplace. In much the same way that we laugh at the absurdity of employees not building fire escapes, those celebrating Health and Safety at Work Day a hundred years from now will likely find our own attitudes outdated.

There is still much to be done. But the history of health and safety in the workplace has never been of a battle that was won overnight. The fact that millions of people around the world are celebrating today and looking for ways to continue improving is a great sign. So, what can you do today? Look for little ways you can improve. Consider teaching your employees a new skill that helps them feel more comfortable in the workplace; or perhaps make sure that your compliance to health and safety laws are up-to-date. However you choose to mark the occasion today, remember that deep down it’s about something very simple… making life better for your employees.


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