Translated from original publication on 03 May 2022 in Forbes France

After almost two years of a health and economic crisis, according to a survey published by IFOP[1] (French Institute of Public Opinion) in April 2021, French employees are more concerned than ever before with their physical and psychological health. 81% of employees place well-being at the top of their expectations, making this a priority strategic issue for companies.

In turn, companies are increasingly conscious of the need to take care of people throughout all levels of their organisation and to reinstate them as the focus of business life, as well as the urgent need to innovate and adapt to new ways of working – innovation that is both technical and managerial.

Business leaders are committing more to health and safety matters

According to the latest ERM Global Health and Safety Survey Report conducted in the third quarter of 2020, the question of health and safety in the workplace has become fundamental for companies. The participating senior health and safety function leaders remarked that a new generation of business leaders increasingly link health and safety to maintained employee involvement and motivation but also to the improvement of overall performance. 89% of respondents said that their business leaders show greater commitment to health and safety, 17% of them having obtained the highest note on the scale for "significantly increased" commitment. Several reasons contribute to this commitment. First, a healthy working environment, where employees feel "well", inevitably affects employees' motivation and productivity.

Next, these business leaders themselves have either experienced a difficult situation or have been in a position where they have had to provide care to the people in their teams. This commitment not only brings them to improve well-being in the workplace, it also leads them to pay closer and more in-depth attention to risk prevention and to prioritize it, so as to fully anticipate possible accidents and resulting costs. In that respect, this preoccupation meets the other trend that has gathered speed in this time of crisis: innovation.

A field where companies seek to continuously improve their employees' daily lives

Companies that have understood the need for innovation in order to improve their employees' daily lives place health and safety at the centre of their concerns. In that respect, and in various fields, a number of projects are flourishing, first and foremost to address the riskiest situations but also to try to deal with extended health risks (e.g. ergonomic hazards, psychosocial risks) that result from new ways of working.

For example, augmented virtual reality training that allows trainees to familiarise themselves with dangerous situations whilst remaining in a secure environment; posture and movement detection systems that allow for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, which can injure tendons and joints; and the use of artificial intelligence as a preventive measure, in particular in combination with increasingly sophisticated captors ("Smart PPE" )… Many innovative solutions exist that can help companies continually improve health and safety.

From reactivity to proactivity

Yet according to the latest Assurance Maladie (French national health insurance) annual report – Occupational Hazards "The Key Figures for 2019, Health and Safety in the Workplace", in France, in 2019, 733 employees died in accidents in the workplace, which is an average of fourteen per week (excluding commuting accidents). We can and must reduce this number.

 The traditional methods that innovation has reworked allow more creativity for greater well-being and more efficiency in treating certain risks. Health and safety provide an interesting laboratory where the protection of workers, a fundamental human concern, meets traditional responses (management) and technological innovation. A laboratory that can teach a lot to any company about the relationship people have to companies, thus placing people back at the heart of company success.

Hence, health and safety in the workplace are crucial elements for company success from an economic and human perspective. This is truer still as the health crisis brought a widespread awakening. On the one hand, employees no longer wish to work the same way and demand better work conditions. On the other hand, companies are increasingly committed in this respect.

As signatories of this article, we are conscious that however great our efforts are, they alone will not suffice to improve the situation and safety of workers. The entire economic ecosystem, from the smallest to the largest companies, must commit today to implement swift and concrete measures and innovations that will represent at least one positive outcome of this crisis, which has revealed the current limits of working methods and company organization

co-signed by:

Arnaud Szymkowiak, Partner, Operational Performance, ERM
Michalis Poulikidis, Europe SHE Director, Unilever
Ludovic Peltier, Corporate Industrial Hygiene & Safety Director, Saint-Gobain
Malika Sifouane, Corporate Health & Safety Manager, L’Oréal
Bruno Baticle, HS Director, Sanofi

[1] The survey was conducted on a sample of 1 005 French employees, representative of French private sector employees. Methodology:  Quota sampling based on sex, age, socio-economic/professional category, sector of activity, and region of residence was used to ensure representativeness. Data collection mode: the surveys were carried out using self-administered online questionnaires from 4 to 9 March 2021.