First published in SHP Online
This year’s Health and Wellbeing at Work exhibition and conference took place last month at the NEC. In line with the venue, the event was overwhelmingly large and broad in its coverage of issues. On display were all sorts of ergonomic office utensils and stands offering everything from eye tests to advice on healthier diets or improving health and safety practices in the work environment. In addition, a series of one day conferences focused around various themes were arranged to take place alongside the exhibition. The general topics went from “employment law”, covering issues such as how to deal with discrimination-related stress at work, to “management and leadership”, addressing, for example, how to create a resilient workforce.
With near 20 conferences having taken place over the duration of the event there is little chance of me being able to provide an accurate idea of everything that went on during Health@Work. However, I went there with a clear agenda. With my interest in all things sustainability, there was a particular one day session which caught my eye – the one covering everything CSR (that is, Corporate Social Responsibility). Having not gone the previous year, I can’t be sure whether this topic was a novel addition. Either way, its inclusion to me served as recognition on the growing interconnectedness between health and safety issues and what constitutes a responsible business. I was particularly interested to see how successfully the speakers would convey this link.
The CSR Conference
The day was chaired by Yogesh Chauhan, Director of Corporate Sustainability at Tata Consultancy Services who is also Trustee Director of “Business in the Community” BITC and Chair at the Corporate Responsibility Group. Between 9:00 – 17:00 a range of commendable speakers presented their perspectives and insights, including representatives from big names such as Diageo, Thomson Reuters, and WWF-UK.
There was a also a broad range of topics, kicking off with Making the case for CSR by Dr Tim Breitbarth and Understanding the ethical issues in CSR by Professor David Crowther. After the morning coffee break, the day continued with Colleen Theron, founder and director of CLT envirolaw, presenting CSR – a legal perspective and potential liabilities. The rest of the day was filled principally with a range of case studies, such as Diageo’s proactive and multi-pronged approach in pushing for the responsible consumption of alcohol and Capgemini UK’s ambitious carbon reduction targets under the TravelWell initiative. The afternoon focussed predominantly on community engagement and volunteering projects undertaken by a range of large organisations, from law firms to technology multinationals. The idea reinforced throughout was the sense of fulfilment felt by employees and the positive repercussions this might have for organisations. Towards the end of the day, WWF-UK spoke about forming effective partnerships with charities and what businesses stand to gain. The benefits for both parties are vast but from the perspective of employees in particular, through schemes with the WWF they gain access to the natural environment, proving beneficial for their health and wellbeing. Once again, this idea that CSR programmes attract and retain talent prevailed.
What can an OSH professional take from this?
On the face of it, it was difficult to see how targeted the contents of the day was for health and safety staff or practitioners. In fact, a show of hands throughout the day showed that most of the attendees at this particularly session were not strictly speaking OSH professionals. This was disheartening as there was definitely valuable information to come away with, explore further, and build on. The conclusions which could be drawn on the day from a health and safety perspective were as follows:
• OSH falls within the broader concept of sustainability or CSR, and it is increasingly linked to an organisation’s strategic management of environmental and social impacts and dependencies
• CSR is about everything that an organisation does and extends to matters of product liability as well as health and safety issues affecting both consumers and employees
• Preserving our world’s resources and living within our means is as much about maintaining the planet’s biodiversity as it is about human wellbeing in the future
• Legal requirements for companies are growing in number and scope in relation to non-financial obligations, such as environmental and human rights matters
• Where there is genuine willingness and company-wide support, voluntary CSR strategies and carefully thought out partnerships demonstrate leadership, foresee and shape legal developments, and fast forward positive change
• CSR initiatives, community engagement and volunteer work, particularly outside of the office, have proven an effective means of improving employee satisfaction and welfare in the workplace