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Drive for wider approach to resilience should be taken up globally

Date posted
08 December 2023
Corey Edwards
Estimated reading time
3 minute read

UK deputy PM plans for a national “resilience academy” received media ridicule but should have been welcomed worldwide, argues IOSH policy expert Corey Edwards.

Goodness knows, health and safety has borne more than its share of hackneyed humour over the years. Though nowhere near as bad as it used to be, especially following the recognition and value placed on good occupational health and safety principles and practice during Covid, our profession inevitably still bears the mythical connection with ‘’elf n’ safety gone mad’, rather than the realities of the many benefits good health and safety brings.

So, I sympathised with UK deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden over the way his first annual risk and resilience statement was reported in the UK media this week, where Britons were largely advised to stock up on torches and candles in case of power cuts (The Guardian, 5 December). The impact of the three-day week in the early 1970s still holds a deep impression on the British national psyche and so this reference to homes needing to hoard emergency, make-do power supplies was made with tongue planted very firmly in cheek.

Surely the deputy PM’s commitment to prevent increasingly numerous, complex and rapidly evolving risks from becoming a reality should have been applauded, rather than ridiculed. To my mind, the government’s launch of a national “resilience academy” needed to be welcomed for its focus on helping people and businesses to plan and prepare for future events such as pandemics, extreme weather, cyber-attacks and malign use of AI, for example.

"Whole of society approach"

I personally welcomed Dowden’s drive to embed a “whole of society approach” to resilience that acknowledges how challenges, if left unchecked, will continue to erode the economy, society, community and national security – indeed, I think this applies at a global level, not just in the UK.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has had numerous witnesses tell the country how under-prepared it was for the pandemic. While the former UK health secretary Matt Hancock said existing plans to deal with a pandemic were not adequate, England’s chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty said the country would have been better prepared to deal with a terrorist attack.

Porton Down scientists broke from their work improving the country’s readiness for future pandemics to meet Dowden, in Wiltshire. Meanwhile, the health and safety profession, globally, and its provision of good occupational health and safety principles and practice has been recognised and valued during Covid – far from being accused of losing its marbles, OSH was applauded for supporting workplaces to remain open, helping workers return to and remain in work with health and safety assessments and controls in place, and enabling business, international economies and supply chains to keep running during the pandemic.

Dowden was right to point out the government has a role to bring all actors together to give them the skills they need. He was right to emphasise how business needs to train its people to cope with threats, while the public will benefit from practical advice and voluntary community support.

The pandemic shone a light on the importance of planning, preparedness, resilience and prevention, especially in this digital/global age. We must be ready for the new, emerging and increasing risks we face. To do this we must use the research and evidence available to us, and seek further research as needed. We must also work collaboratively and collectively across the UK and internationally to learn lessons, share good practice, consider scenarios and coordinate efforts. We absolutely must take the risks seriously and respond appropriately.

It’s certainly going to need a lot more thought, planning and insight than stocking up on torches, candles, battery powered radios and first-aid kits.

Last updated: 01 February 2024

Corey Edwards

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