New research from ERM, the world’s largest specialist sustainability consultancy, has revealed that organizations are experiencing unprecedented change as the workforce composition, the nature and place of work evolve rapidly, while expectations and risks around health and safety increase.

The ERM 2024 Global Health and Safety Survey, based on insights from 256 Health and Safety (H&S) Function Leaders from companies employing 11 million people, found that the vast majority of participants (94%) reported increased expectations from their stakeholders over the last three years and 80% anticipate expectations will continue to rise. However, H&S functions are struggling to keep pace with the rapidly changing stakeholder needs and only 2% believe H&S professionals are fully equipped to do so.

Risk factors
The findings reflect the challenges businesses face in keeping pace with shifts in the workplace and managing increased risk. For example, 63% anticipate increased use of contractors in the next three years, yet almost two thirds (65%) say that contractor H&S is harder to manage than H&S for their own employees. Of the 567 fatalities reported by the survey participants in the last three years, 65% involved contractors.

Psychosocial risk factors and the mental health challenges that arise from them were identified as a growing source of concern by 87% of participants, and most organizations (84%) had adopted measures to drive improvement in their management of psychosocial risk factors. The constant pressure to perform at work, a faster pace of work, increased workload, and an ‘always-on’ environment were among the top factors giving rise to increased concern about mental health.

H&S investment
The survey found that companies are investing heavily in H&S in an effort to keep pace with the changes. Participants increased their investments in H&S by 26% on average in the last three years and anticipate a further 20% increase in the next three years. Technology in H&S is growing apace – 88% of the survey participants deployed new technologies in the last three years and six of the top 10 investments in H&S were directed at harnessing new technologies and artificial intelligence to improve H&S performance. Data analytics (cited by 44%) tops the list for technology investments priorities in the next three years followed by automation and robotics in second place (cited by 33%).

Leadership engagement
The majority (87%) of participants believe that leadership engagement is the most powerful way to drive improvement in H&S performance. However, although 81% reported higher levels of leadership engagement in the last three years, only 7% feel their leaders are spending sufficient time engaging on H&S.

Brian Kraus, Safety Transformation Services Director at ERM and the lead for the 2024, 2021 and 2018 studies commented that "There is increasing complexity in protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of people at work arising from fundamental changes in the work, those engaging in the work and where the work is done.

"Substantive challenges identified in the earlier studies remain, despite broad-based commitment, increasing engagement from leaders and investment in H&S processes, programs, tools, technology and training. This is not a new conclusion, but for many the gap is widening.

"Our survey findings call for a pause for meaningful reflection on the way forward, not more of the same. Senior organizational leaders and the H&S profession have a crucial role to play in leading the change in a context where expectations for the health and safety of the workforce from every stakeholder group continue to ratchet up, year on year, with no peak in sight."

Valery Kucherov, Global Service Leader for Safety & Risk at ERM said: "The expectations of the Health and Safety profession have transformed in recent years from a technical, compliance-led function into a fast-changing, business-critical enabler of human performance and organizational culture change.

"The ever-increasing levels of investment in H&S show that businesses are striving to keep up with the rising expectations and pace of change. H&S Function Leaders are driven by a sense of purpose and thrive when they are delivering real impact, and with the right strategies in place we see a huge opportunity to build on progress to date to significantly dial up safety culture, leadership, and performance."

Notes to editors
The ERM 2023 Global Health and Safety Survey sets out findings from engagements with 256 Health and Safety Function Leaders from companies that directly employ 11 million people in addition to many millions of contractors. Over 36,000 H&S professionals work with the participating companies which have operations in more than 150 countries and combined revenues of US $7.2 trillion, equivalent to 7.2% of global GDP in 2022. This is the third Global Health and Safety Survey ERM has conducted, building on insights gathered in 2018 and 2021.

About ERM
Sustainability is our business.

As the world’s largest specialist sustainability consultancy, ERM partners with the world’s leading organizations, creating innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and unlocking commercial opportunities that meet the needs of today while preserving opportunity for future generations.

ERM’s diverse team of 8,000+ world-class experts in over 150 offices in 40 countries and territories combine strategic transformation and technical delivery to help clients operationalize sustainability at pace and scale. ERM calls this capability its “boots to boardroom” approach - a comprehensive service model that helps organizations to accelerate the integration of sustainability into their strategy and operations. Learn more