Noeleen Doherty: Employers and staff can create a healthy workplace

Physical, mental and social health and wellbeing in the workplace are key considerations for both employers and employees.

Doctor Noeleen Doherty

The creation and maintenance of safe physical and positive work environments are mutually dependent: one supports the other. Physical high-hazard contexts, such as in the construction and engineering industries, tend to attract high-profile publicity because the outcomes of poor practices can be potentially fatal; think Chernobyl or Piper Alpha. But in situations where the physical risks could be perceived as less serious, such as office or retail environments, the consequences may not seem so significant. 

However, it is critical to avoid complacency. In such low-hazard environments, slips, trips, falls and ‘near misses’ are actually quite common and can be costly to staff in terms of personal injury, and to employers and society in terms of financial costs.

There are regulations in place to address environmental issues, such as noise or air pollution, but there is a need to move away from a mindset of compliance and cost to one of mindfulness of the factors that create and maintain a safe, healthy working environment.

Shared responsibility

Shared responsibility and shared leadership help to create a healthy work environment. All employees have a role to play in ensuring good practice is part of everyday organisational life. This involves keeping staff aware of risks, helping them to develop skills in risk assessment and risk management, but importantly enabling employees to prioritise and not become risk-bound.

Employers must enable and support staff to take responsibility for health and safety, facilitating problem-solving to address issues when they arise and encouraging employee involvement in maintaining a safe working environment. Only then can they successfully create a workplace that supports staff health and wellbeing.

Doctor Noeleen Doherty is a senior research fellow at Cranfield School of Management