Corporate health, safety and wellbeing practice is undergoing a period of radical new thinking and digital innovation unlike anything it has seen, and it is leading to exponentially improved outcomes for business and for workers.

New digital innovations such as big data, analytics and other technologies normally found only in sci-fi films – such as AI, robotics, drones, AR, VR, gamification, mobile apps, wearables, IoT and exoskeletons – are transforming health and safety practice, reducing risk and improving working conditions across multiple industry sectors.

Simultaneously, awareness is rapidly growing of the need for a more holistic, human-centred and personalised approach to employee health and safety, one that looks beyond compliance and incident minimisation, to include mental health and the overall wellbeing of employees.

The lines between work and home are blurring in our “always on, always connected” lives. We are drowning in digital technology, social media, never-ending emails and calls from bosses, customers, clients, staff and partners – and this doesn’t end when you walk in the front door at home of an evening. For companies operating globally across multiple time zones, the impact is even more pronounced, with adverse effects on employee sleep patterns, circadian rhythms, physical health and family relationships.

There is little wonder that overall employee mental health and wellbeing have become key business considerations. CXOs are increasingly conscious of the bottom-line financial and organisational impacts of poor employee wellbeing and mental health. Smart companies and business leaders are recognising that the work and home lives of their staff, both shape, influence and impact each other.

We are facing a mental health crisis, not only as business leaders, but as a society – and the enormous scale of the problem is only recently beginning to be known.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men under 50, and the number of deaths from suicide in the construction industry in the UK is an order of magnitude greater than the number of deaths from workplace accidents.

A recent study found that building and construction workers face a suicide risk twice the national average and the risk for low-skilled workers in process plant operations was 2.6 times higher. The agricultural sector also carried an elevated risk for men, more than 1.5 times above the average for both low-skilled and high-skilled workers. And women are not spared either, with those in culture, media and sport sectors also at elevated risk.

Estimates of the number of UK citizens who will suffer from a mental health problem in any given year, range from one in three, to one in four people. A recent research report found that a staggering three in four people in the UK felt so stressed at least once over the past year, that they were overwhelmed and unable to cope. Isabella Goldie, director of the Mental Health Foundation thinktank, which commissioned the research, said: “Millions of us around the UK are experiencing high levels of stress and it is damaging our health. Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it is not being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.”

We are working longer hours, for less job security, juggling family, work, mortgages, school fees and all manner of personal crises at home. And at work, everything from deadlines, to disgruntled customers, deadly dangers and difficult directives from the Board or the boss.

In recognition of this, the best companies are offering supportive new programmes with wide-ranging impact, but targeted focus – designed to improve employee fitness, sleep, financial management, activity, volunteering, working conditions, learning and development, diet and nutrition – as well as the usual hard-hats, boots and accident-free working environments.

The improvements and benefits are indeed exponential, having ripple effects outwards both to employees lives and to the business bottom-line. These exponential, transformative and game-changing new ideas and tech innovations were the focus of X Health, Safety & Wellbeing forum from The Crowd, which ran this week at Glaziers Hall in London.

The event kicked-off with Applied Futurist, Tom Cheesewright, from Book of the Future, providing an eye-opening and, at times, mildly frightening, vision of Wellbeing 2.0, including the prospect of smart toilets for monitoring the….ahem…outputs…of employees to check for alcohol and drugs. His observation that Apple Inc makes more than $1.85 million profit from each of their employees per year, put into perspective the enormous scale of value employees provide, as well as the obvious conclusion – that a small investment in their wellbeing can reap big bottom-line returns and improve shareholder value.

Anglian Water CEO, Peter Simpson, reiterated the importance of companies taking a holistic approach, one that is deeply ingrained in corporate culture, strategy, brand message, mission and leadership development. Peter’s committed leadership on mental health and wellbeing, as well as his collaboration with Business in the Community on the “Work Well Model”, are giving voice, direction and licence to other companies and business leaders to follow suit.

The Leadership Panel that Peter joined, along with Jonathan Garrett, Head of Health, Safety, Environment & Wellbeing at Prudential, Jennie Armstrong, Head of Health, Safety & Wellbeing at Tideway London, and panel moderator, Louise Aston, Head of Wellbeing at BITC, covered broad ground on what constitutes proactive, principled and progressive leadership on health, safety and wellbeing.

The New Thinkers Showcase and discussion, brought together two wildly different presentations, one from Joe Carr at Immarsat, with case study examples of how the mining industry are using the Internet of Things to improve the safety and health of miners. The other presentation from Laura Willis from Shine Offline, flagged the growing problem of digital addiction and the need for companies to be cognisant of the impacts on employees.

The peer-to-peer roundtable discussions, had business leaders and practitioners sharing insights, learnings, new ideas and comparing notes on such important themes as: removing the stigma of mental health, building the business case for doing safety differently, integrating supply chain and OH&S systems, the management of wellbeing, leading safely, recruiting and developing talent, managing contractor safety, creating a safety culture and leadership and wearable tech for wellbeing.

Finally, the show-stopping performance from Dee Dee Preston of Fear Factors plc (aka Emma Currie from Acting Up), reminded us of the importance of humour, banter and not making health and safety too earnest if you want to communicate effectively.

Big thanks from all of us at The Crowd to everyone who took part, and to our sponsors and partners for their generous support: Acre, BuildSafe, dorsaVi, ERM, Adnams and CAF.

X Health, Safety & Wellbeing will be back at Glaziers Hall again this 31st October, with more mind-expanding, exponential, transformative innovation and new thinking for business.

Hope to see you there.

Yours in The Crowd

Daniel