A report has found that improving employee participation in health and safety, educating and training the workforce and implementing a safety culture are the main health and safety priorities for the businesses surveyed.

The significance of these priorities is clear from the respondents’ feedback which revealed how businesses are increasingly concerned about how their environmental, health and safety (EHS) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices could ‘negatively impact on the wider business performance’. 

Engaging workers, growing business, protecting the planet: How improving EHS and ESG performance can drive competitive advantage surveyed more than 700 EHS and ESG professionals across a wide range of industrial sectors in 10 European countries and found that more than three-quarters (78%) believe they could ‘lose business to a competitor who can better demonstrate how they’re improving health and safety within their organisation’. 

The European survey by global environmental, health, safety and quality (EHSQ) management software provider Intelex looked at the six most common challenges in health and safety and found that 41% of respondents cited improving employee participation as the most significant. This was followed by educating and training employees (33%), implementing a safety culture (32%) and incident prevention (31%). The findings also revealed that lack of the right technology (29%) and compliance with regulations (28%) were also important. 

Significantly, the overriding issue for both EHS and ESG was a cultural one, the report found: how could businesses ensure that everyone from senior management down to on-site workers would own the challenge of improving business operations across EHS and ESG?

The report noted how building engagement is critical to reducing the number of incidents and how often they occur and reoccur. The survey found that almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents admitted that workers in their organisation had been injured, made ill or were involved in an accident over the past 12 months. Of this figure, 42% said that these incidents had happened more than once in the past and 20% felt that they could happen again in the future unless necessary improvements were made.

Significantly, respondents said that improvements needed to be made ‘in every area of incident management – prevention, reaction, reporting, tracking, investigation and analysis’. Across the 10 countries, respondents consistently raised the need for significant or notable improvements across these incident management areas.

Intelex’s research also showed that, of those respondents who had experienced at least one health and safety incident in the past 12 months, 49% admitted that they ‘struggle to extract, format and submit the data they need’ so they can respond effectively.

In addition, as many as 44% of respondents said that they had to ‘wrestle with inconsistent data across multiple sources’, which complicated the situation. Nearly as many (41%) admitted that they wasted time searching for critical information across different IT systems.

The findings also showed that 38% of respondents said that they don’t collect the correct data when incidents happen. The same number admitted they have a limited understanding of the OSH management systems in their business.

Intelex argues that the best way to encourage greater employee participation is for organisations to adopt the right EHS technology.

‘Success means making it easy to report incidents and near misses,’ the report notes. ‘The easiest way to do this is to implement technology that is fit for purpose.’

The survey found that 87% of respondents believed that implementing EHS-specific technologies and applications would resolve most of their health and safety-related issues.

Intelex’s report reveals that although common approaches were taken across the 10 countries included in the survey, there were some differences in relation to responses to EHS.

The report’s spotlight on the United Kingdom and Ireland indicates that these two countries lead their European counterparts in terms of the ‘adoption of connected EHS-specific applications’.

Although EHS professionals in both nations cited ‘significant or notable room for improvement across incident prevention, reaction, reporting, tracking, investigation and analysis’, this was to ‘a lesser degree than their mainland counterparts’, which implies EHS professionals in these countries have progressed further in dealing with incidents, the report says.

It also suggests the UK and Irish EHS professionals have a ‘slightly deeper appreciation of the possible consequences of poor performance on the wider business.’

The survey reveals that 84% of respondents in these two countries (compared with 81% in the overall survey) said that ‘if they don’t improve their health and safety culture, they risk losing skilled workers to better placed competitors’. A higher percentage (81% compared to 78% in the overall survey) said that their organisation risks losing business to competitors with a better EHS performance. 

The spotlight on Germany, Austria and Switzerland (DACH) region reveals that improving employee participation in health and safety programmes was still the top priority (39%) but this was lower than the survey average.

Compliance with regulations, however, was cited as the second most significant priority (35%) compared to sixth place in the overall ranking. Lack of the right technology came a close third (34%) compared to 29% and fifth place overall.

The four Nordic countries that participated in the survey (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) demonstrated different EHS priorities. The top priority was implementing technology and training to improve OSH processes.

Interestingly, improving workforce safety, which was second in the overall survey, came in at joint eighth position across the Nordic countries. The survey suggests that this could be down to EHS professionals in this region feeling that they already progressed significantly in this area.

Although the Nordic respondents used ‘connected EHS systems to a lesser degree than their European neighbours’, the survey did reveal most did recognise that implementing the right technology would resolve most of their health and safety-related issues, although this was lower than the survey findings overall (80% compared to 87%).

In the spotlight on France, the final country covered, French respondents admitted that they are ‘more likely to report that they use multiple different solutions and generic software to manage their EHS programmes’. France, with 72%, scores the highest in the research, 12% above the average, the report notes.

More interesting was the French perspective on EHS challenges. The report found that, although employee participation in health and safety programmes still came top and educating and training employees ranked second, incident prevention was cited as the third main health and safety priority. Whereas implementing a safety culture ranked third overall, in France it was listed as seventh.

‘This focus is understandable when we consider that France sees the greater number of repeat incidents than any other region,’ the report noted.

‘It’s probably why French respondents tell us they need either significant or notable improvements in every area of how they manage health and safety. Their scores for this are greater than the average across incident prevention, reaction, reporting, tracking, investigation and analysis.’