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Human capital and health and wellbeing

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Regulatory Engagement, discusses IOSH’s recent consultation submission on human capital indicators.

The IOSH priority area ‘sustainability and human capital’ in support of WORK 2022, stresses the moral, legal and business drivers for providing ‘good work’, developing talent and treating workers well.

We believe that recognising the true value of occupational safety and health (OSH) awareness for individuals, for those they directly affect, and for wider society, can help ensure sustainable and much-needed investment in OSH.

the global goals for sustainable developmentSo, we welcome that the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the UK recognised body for collecting and publishing national socio-economic statistics, is now exploring human capital indicators and potential links to health and wellbeing, to help inform public-policy.

IOSH has been pleased to make recommendations to the ONS before on measuring national wellbeing and also on reporting progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, and we welcome the opportunity to do so again.

Human capital is defined by the ONS as a measure of the skills, knowledge and experience of an individual or population which can be applied in the economy or in society at large. And it explains that human capital is widely recognised as a driver of productivity and helps people achieve their needs and wants and improve their well-being.

The ONS currently measures human capital stock in monetary terms, as the discounted lifetime earnings of the working age population. It uses an internationally recognised approach set out in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) guide on Measuring Human Capital.

But, importantly, it wants to change and is now considering how to improve and expand on its existing estimates to meet a wider set of users’ needs, such as:

  • Understanding skills gaps and the threats of automation across all sectors
  • The value for money of education and training, from vocational and higher education to apprenticeships and job-related training
  • Producing international comparable estimates of human capital

IOSH supports the ONS proposal to take an indicator-based approached, presented as a dashboard, for measuring human capital. This is because it allows a richer display of indicators, isn’t restricted to monetary value, can represent sub-groups, and, by being composite, reduces dependency on one source. We also support a life-time acquisition approach, with indicators related to what they refer to as inputs, outcomes and enablers. We believe this will encourage long-term thinking, planning and investment in OSH awareness and skill development.

lifetime acquisition model of human capital

Source: ONS Human Capital Indicators consultation

IOSH also calls for a broader scope for ONS that considers human capital impacts related to OSH, including on communities, economies and societies; and for the filling of specific data-gaps, including on:

  • Appropriate OSH awareness in national, professional and vocational education to help create a risk-intelligent society
  • The ability to manage OSH risk and foster supportive workplace cultures
  • The ability to provide ‘good work’ in which all ages can fulfil their potential
  • The ability to prevent work-related injury and illness and exposures to work-related health hazards that can cause long-latency conditions, such as noise induced hearing loss and occupational cancers
  • Potential linkage between national investment in OSH education, management and regulation and national health, wellbeing and social value

The ONS intends that broadening its definition of human capital will allow it to value a diverse set of skills, knowledge, competencies and attributes in the UK, and enable their cultivation to enhance future health and well-being, regardless of the improvement context. It also intends to explore wider societal benefits, such as impacts on civic participation, productivity and the economy, in the next phase of its project.

In furthering this agenda, some years ago, IOSH co-founded the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), see www.centershs.org. This network and think-tank aims for all organisations to recognise the value of OSH, wellbeing and human capital, as part of their sustainable business practices and overall value creation – see our Human Capital Global Summit report earlier this year.

IOSH members can get involved in the UK’s ONS human capital project and be kept updated about future opportunities to contribute to it, including further consultations and workshops, by emailing consultation@iosh.com.

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