The changing face of health, safety and well-being at work

Our work is a huge part of our lives. Whether we work behind a desk or on our feet, we all deserve to come home safe and well.  

Few minutes to read
By Martin Cottam and Sally Swingewood
Published on

The ISO Foresight Trend Report highlights global trends across multiple industries that will shape strategic decision making for a better future. Drawing upon these insights, ISO reflects on some of the potential areas for standardization work. In a series of feature articles, we unpack some of the critical global trends with top experts in their field. 

Martin Cottam and Sally Swingewood receiving the 2022 LDE Award.

The world of work is changing, but one constant always remains – the need to actively protect workers’ health and safety. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that, globally, there are currently 2.3 million work-related fatalities per year, 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses.

Across the world, and between different industries and sectors, there are significant differences in how effectively organizations protect their workers. But all organizations need sustained effort when it comes to occupational health and safety (OH&S): there is no room for complacency. OH&S performance can always be improved. In fact, effective OH&S can contribute to making an organization more resilient, more sustainable and, ultimately, more successful.

A spectrum of OH&S risks  

Historically, the starting point for OH&S has often been the prevention of workplace accidents and the long-term health effects of exposure to hazardous substances. As these risks become better controlled, attention often turns to risks such as muscular-skeletal damage or hearing loss. Belatedly, given the scale of the issue, the importance of workers’ psychological health and well-being is being more widely recognized, not least because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And whilst all of these known OH&S risks remain of vital importance, the global climate crisis is already creating new and increased risks, which organizations need to address. 

As organizations move from addressing physical workplace safety to managing psychological health and well-being – including the impact on OH&S from climate change – there are huge opportunities to enhance OH&S in the workplace and share good practice. That’s why ISO is leading work in this sector by bringing together global experts to make this a reality.  

Safe and healthy workplaces 

The OH&S guidance developed by technical committee ISO/TC 283 includes supporting guidelines, standards and good practice to help organizations, regardless of size, location, sector, or the nature of their business. For organizations that are serious about improving employee health and safety, reducing workplace risks and creating better working conditions, there is ISO 45001. With an overall framework to manage OH&S, its adoption helps provide safe and healthy workplaces, prevent work-related injury and ill health, and continually improve performance in this area. 

Work-related injuries, illnesses or fatalities are always difficult for any kind of organization, but the negative effects for small businesses can be overwhelming. A handbook, published jointly by ISO and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, provides additional guidance specifically to small organizations on the implementation of ISO 45001. Recent years have brought awareness that rising numbers of workers are exposed to psychosocial risks which can harm their mental health. To address the issue, ISO developed the first global standard giving guidance on managing psychological health in the workplace – ISO 45003

There are huge opportunities to enhance OH&S in the workplace. 

Keeping agile 

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how quickly new risks and challenges can emerge, and the value of international collaboration and knowledge sharing. When the spread of the virus made it imperative for organizations to act promptly to keep workers safe, ISO/TC 283 wasted no time in developing safe working guidelines (ISO/PAS 45005) for people in all settings, including those working at home or on the move. It is now consolidating some of the lessons learned into more general and wide-reaching guidance on managing infectious diseases in the workplace (ISO 45006). 

ISO’s primary focus is to support organizations in proactively preventing work-related injury and ill health. Its series of standards on OH&S management not only protects workers on the front line; it can also lead to better workforce morale, improved products and services and a stable revenue flow. Occupational health and safety are, quite literally, everybody’s business. And just plain good business at that. 

About the authors

Martin Cottam is the Chair of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 283, Occupational health and safety management.
Sally Swingewood is the Committee Manager of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 283, Occupational health and safety management.


Press contact

Journalist, blogger or editor?

Want to get the inside scoop on standards, or find out more about what we do? Get in touch with our team or check out our media kit.