ERM’s 2024 Global Health and Safety Survey, ‘Rising to the Challenge of the Constantly Changing World of Work’, speaks to the tectonic shifts that we are witnessing in how, where and by whom work is delivered. These changes are occurring in a context where expectations for health and safety from all stakeholder groups (employees, regulators, Boards of Directors) continue to escalate.

The 256 Health and Safety Function Leaders who participated in this study inform us that the costs for organizations that fail to rise to the challenge will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the prize for organizations and their leaders who successfully navigate their way through these challenges is great.

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The survey addresses topical issues in health and safety (H&S), such as psychosocial risk and the application of AI. H&S trends identified in the report include:

1. Change and challenge
Change in world of work (and in H&S) isn’t something new. But the breadth and depth of the change is unprecedented, and there is no sense that there will be any let-up in the pace either. The data suggests that organizations are, to a greater or lesser extent, struggling to keep up.

2. Leadership engagement. Communication. Impact.
In health and safety, leadership is the key, the lever to a safer, healthier, more engaged and more productive workforce. The voice of the Function Leaders on this is crystal clear. And all the data point towards a need to transform approaches to communicating and engaging the workforce on H&S. Not more, but different and better.

3. Partnering with contractors
As organizations’ dependence on their contractor base and the individuals who actually deliver the work on their behalf increases, so does their strategic significance. The need for and benefits of a healthy, safe workforce apply no less to the contractor’s workforce than to a company’s own employees.

4. Organizational capacity and capability building to respond to the change
The ever-increasing investment in H&S, at rates of growth that exceed most measures of economic performance, is a precious opportunity to address the rising challenges in H&S shared by the Function Leaders.

5. Psychosocial risk
Those new to the field understandably have a tendency to conflate psychosocial hazards and risks with mental health. The distinction is important as psychosocial risks are specific factors in the work environment that pose a threat to worker psychological wellbeing, while mental health is a broader and more encompassing concept that refers to an individual’s overall emotional, psychological and social state. This confusion may be attributed to the current absence in many countries of specific guidelines on how to eliminate and minimize psychosocial risks.

6. An agile health & safety function
H&S professionals and the functions they populate are operating in a new paradigm, and not surprisingly many are struggling to deliver on the complex demands placed upon them. Widespread difficulties with recruiting experienced talent in the field only serves to compound the challenge. While individual circumstances will vary, the statistical analysis of the data suggests that organizations should focus more on building capability than capacity.

7. Data and insight to guide decision making
The management of H&S data has gone through a metamorphosis in the last decade and most leading organizations have established the infrastructure to handle and report incident statistics. But the use of data to drive improvement in the field remains relatively immature compared to state-of-the-art practices used in operational excellence. Insights from the Function Leaders suggest companies have become more adept at incident investigation/causal learning but have made less progress in translating these insights into meaningful change.

8. Harnessing artificial intelligence and technology
Data, technology and AI offer tremendously exciting prospects for delivering a step-change in H&S performance. Investment decisions, however, need to be guided by an overarching strategy. Piecemeal, stepwise adoption of solutions is a recipe for long-term, sub-optimal outcomes.

9. Function Leaders wishlist
Leading H&S functions is enormously challenging at a time of extraordinary change and growing complexity in the field, with constantly evolving expectations from every internal and external stakeholder group, where the impacts on business are rising relentlessly. Confronted by these challenges, taking the time to engage deeply with the organization, to think strategically and engage substantively with senior leadership are imperatives, not ideals.

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The ERM 2024 Global Health and Safety Survey is the third in the series, building on insights gathered in 2018 and 2021. The report sets out findings from engagements with 256 Health and Safety Function Leaders from companies that directly employ 11 million people in addition to many millions of contractors. Over 36,000 H&S professionals work with the participating companies which have operations in more than 150 countries and combined revenues of US $7.2 trillion, equivalent to 7.2% of global GDP in 2022.