We’re excited to say that this afternoon IOSH release the reports from the projects that make up their ‘Health and Safety in a Changing World’ research programme – including the report from our project, ‘The Changing Legitimacy of Health and Safety at Work, 1960-2015‘.
Our project report represents the outcome of over two years of work, including multiple focus groups, 40 oral history interviews with key actors, and a wealth of archival research. We describe and analyse what has happened over the past 55 years, in terms of the ways in which health and safety has been understood and perceived, and how people have acted – and, importantly, conclude by making 22 recommendations for current and future practice.
If we had to summarise, we would say our key findings were:
- While politics, disasters, and the influence of different stakeholders have brought fluctuations over time, health and safety is actually a remarkably stable system. Institutional longevity and consistent challenges mean that the core idea of health and safety as a public good has endured, and so we should be wary of viewing this as a ‘crisis’, becoming more defensive and alienating audiences further. Open communication, and the confidence to share expertise, are key values to pursue.
- One reason for this stability is that health and safety has a life of its own beyond direct Government control, embedded in workplaces and interest groups, and increasingly devolved in form and function. This means deregulation is thus ‘easier said than done’, helping the system to weather political storms. It also means that communicating beyond the ‘core’ of the safety profession and stakeholders, to engage wider audiences, is vitally important.
- When dispute and controversy does arise, it is often because positive change tends to bring related negative perceptions. For instance, self-regulation gives choice to, and empowers, decision-makers; this empowerment also allows for a degree of inconsistency and self-prescription; similarly, innovating to tackle new challenges can lead to perceptions of over-reaching. But these controversies can also be celebrated and framed as successes, and we can work with, rather than against, these tendencies.
- The great strengths of the health and safety ‘system’ lie in the perceived good motives of those who work in the area; the expertise and skill that they possess (and can advertise or ‘sell’); their ownership of a powerful message (the moral ‘right’ to safe work); and their ability to achieve realistic, tangible change at the local level. All these goals should be prioritised and emphasised in day-to-day engagement with workers, employers, and the public.
Of course, there’s plenty more in the full report, so we encourage you all to read it. You can get hold of a copy here, and find the website for the research programme as a whole at http://www.iosh.co.uk/changingworld
We look forward to hearing what you have to say about it!