Speakers at the British Safety Council’s 2017 Annual Conference warned of the challenges that are fast changing the world of work.

The British Safety Council’s Annual Conference ‘Health and safety: Preparing for the future’ held on 4 October at The King’s Fund, London, provided a platform for sharing expertise, evidence and best practice of managing health and safety challenges at the national, organisational and individual level.

Opening the conference, Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, said: “A lot of happened since our annual conference last year. The Brexit process is underway. Theresa May has lost her government majority and Donald Trump is president. Grenfell Tower fire shocked the nation, and indeed the world.

“There is no doubt we are facing a period of significant change and uncertainty, both in the UK and on the world stage. We are committed to promoting proportionate management of health, safety and sustainability and our conference programme will reflect this. The speakers will consider some of key challenges facing the business world and suggest how organisations can deal with them to realise opportunities.”

The presentations and discussions at the conference centred on the following issues:

How are health and safety regulations changing? “Regulation is a political football. However, the effectiveness of the H&S system depends on the engaged dutyholder population.” David Snowball, HSE

The potential impact of Brexit: “There is unlikely to be a bonfire of regulations during the UK withdrawal but there are concerns about what may happen to laws afterwards.” Prof Paul Almond, University of Reading

“Post-Brexit UK could review effectiveness of H&S law. There will be an opportunity for revisions and improvements.” Prof Paul Almond, University of Reading

Changing nature of workplace risks: “One of the greatest challenges for health and safety is the pace of change.” Prof Andrew Curran

“Risks are arising from such developments such as cobots – robots that can operate alongside workers. Another risk is a globally dispersed workforce operating alongside machines which can be remotely operated from elsewhere.” Prof Andrew Curran

Building resilience – preparing people for challenging situations: “Someone put two and two together and made five”. This is how stress and deadlines lead to life changing accidents.” Adam Christopher, ATT Training

“Healthy culture means staff can talk honestly to managers, as international rugby players do with their coaches.” Calvin Morris, World Rugby

“You must have a plan for when morale goes down.” Calvin Morris, World Rugby

Mental health at the core of organisation’s activities: “High staff engagement is not sustainable without worker wellbeing, including mental wellbeing.”

“NHS hospitals with high staff engagement have lower patient mortality rates.”

“Achieving wellbeing sustainably requires resilience.” Prof Dame Carol Black

The British Safety Council’s Chair Lynda Armstrong, closed the conference, saying: “The overriding theme of the conference was change and its fast pace which is changing the workplace beyond recognition. New technology, ageing labour force, attitudinal changes, as well as social and political developments are shifting the focus of the health and safety industry from physical safety to health and wellbeing, including mental health.

“Mental health is a leading issue of our time. Reducing the stigma that surrounds it must be a priority, so people feel free to speak up and seek help. Yet, there is also a need to build robust systems to provide prompt access to specialist treatment and support when required. I am proud that the British Safety Council has been able to take a lead here with the launch of Mates in Mind and, most recently, creating a suite of training courses that will help organisations to embed a supportive mental health culture.”