RS releases industry report ‘Under the Surface of Health and Safety’ 2023

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PPE procurement, skills shortages and sustainability emerge as key themes for health and safety professionals.

RS, an omni-channel provider of product and service solutions including maintenance solutions and safety solutions, has released the ‘Under the Surface of Health and Safety’ report, based on findings from a survey that aimed to explore challenges and priorities for health and safety professionals in the current climate.

The survey was conducted among more than 700 respondents working in health and safety roles in the UK, across a variety of sectors including food and beverage, manufacturing, energy, public services, aerospace and rail industries. The resulting report covers key areas including PPE availability, safety and compliance confidence levels, and the role of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability in the future of health and safety.

Report highlights include:

  • Organisations’ confidence in the effectiveness of their health and safety capabilities (including selection of correct PPE, and providing safety from physical harm, infection or mental health impact) is improving in comparison with pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. Almost 70 per cent of health and safety professionals are now more confident when it comes to protecting staff members, with more than a third feeling ‘much more confident’
  • From an end-user perspective, 65 per cent of people share this level of confidence
  • While confidence in ability to protect employees is growing, when it comes selecting the right PPE – which is crucial to safety – 22 per cent are only ‘fairly confident’ or worse, suggesting there are shortfalls that need to be rectified
  • On PPE procurement, the paramount criteria is suitability of product for the specific need – cited as a top priority by 49 per cent and rated as a top five criteria for 84 per cent of respondents
  • Employee compliance – a critical element of health and safety – is an area that has also seen growth in confidence since the pandemic, with manufacturing and construction topping out at 80 per cent
  • Training and development is seen by almost two-thirds (61 per cent) as a factor impacting employee compliance, with 28 per cent giving this the highest impact rating of five. This figure doesn’t drop below 55 per cent for any sector, pointing to a direct correlation between training and compliance in the minds of most health and safety professionals
  • Almost three quarters of survey respondents were men, of which 37 per cent were aged 54 and over, representing the most common demographic. This highlights the long recognised challenge of attracting and retaining a younger workforce
  • Sustainability and ESG were listed by respondents as additional responsibilities now within their remit, with 27 per cent and 15 per cent respectively citing these elements, indicating that many organisations are now incorporating them within health and safety roles
  • Taking into account the above statistics, it was surprising to see that only 23 per cent of respondents included renewable considerations in their top-five criteria when selecting a PPE provider
  • Key considerations for the future of health and safety for survey participants include wage pressures, skills shortages and risk to safety posed by pressure to increase productivity (an average of 43 per cent across all sectors on the latter)
  • Half of survey respondents see digitalisation as little or no concern when it comes to health and safety, reinforced by the relative lack of concern over how new technology might impact compliance.

Ryan Plummer, Senior Director for RS Safety Solutions, said: “The last few years have presented possibly the most challenging period for the health and safety sector in living memory, which is why we were keen to explore the state of play among health and safety professionals across a wide variety of sectors. As a major player in the PPE market, we want to get under the skin of the challenges facing H&S professionals today, and help start a dialogue around these key issues to effect, share and promote best practices.

“It was clear to see from the findings that there is wide recognition of the importance of selecting the right protective equipment for the job, but the fact that almost a quarter of respondents are just ‘fairly confident’ or worse in this task means there’s still an awareness job to be done about how to select suppliers with the right knowledge, expertise, product breadth and robust supply chain. There was very little difference in ranking between product cost and product availability, but as the latter was placed by more organisations in their top five criteria (84 per cent), this emphasises the need for a reliable PPE supplier above all else.”

Plummer also pointed out the low ranking of renewable considerations, being a top-five criteria for only 23 per cent of respondents. He added: “Considering the significant percentage with sustainability and ESG responsibilities, as well as the demonstrable concern of climate change as a risk, there are clearly some barriers to action when it comes to implementing a more sustainable PPE procurement strategy. This is something organisations can work with suppliers on to help meet their ESG objectives.”

The survey data highlights challenges around PPE procurement, with 27 per cent of respondents from construction and 31 per cent in manufacturing finding sourcing trustworthy products challenging. For manufacturing, in particular, keeping up to date with new products and technology (29 per cent), and knowing where to get the best price (27 per cent) are also above the average when listing challenges – a trend shared by industrial neighbours in food and beverage/retail and distribution. This indicates that sectors traditionally associated with protective equipment are actually those who are struggling to source what they need, at the right price, to the required extent.