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Managing OSH in diverse teams

Managing OSH in diverse teams


Embracing difference and ensuring inclusivity at work makes good business sense, as well as protecting the safety and health of staff, Becky Spencer reports.

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” the late American author and businessman Stephen Covey famously said, and in the workplace this is surely true.

Imagine working in a team where everyone was the same as you – where all your colleagues had the same thoughts, the same life experience and came up with the same ideas.  Apart from being incredibly boring, from a business point of view it would lead to a lack of innovation and creativity, which would certainly affect performance and productivity.

Thankfully, in 2024, all good workplaces embrace diversity and the business benefits it brings. Hopefully, if you take a look around you at your team, you will see a mix of people that may include young and older workers, people of different genders, ethnicities, faiths and cultural backgrounds, as well as people with disabilities.

Of course, all of us are unique, so all teams are ­– in this respect – diverse, and good OSH management should include policies and procedures that benefit the whole team while not ignoring individual characteristics which may mean employees face increased risks in the workplace.

Assessing risks

This does not mean that managing health and safety when you have a diverse team involves loads of extra work or form-filling. All employers have a legal duty to assess the risks to the health and safety of their employees from their work. Inclusive risk assessment takes into account the needs of workers who may be at increased risk when doing a job, e.g. due to their gender, age or disability, even if a person with any increased risk is not currently doing that job.

By conducting an inclusive risk assessment when planning a work task or buying new equipment, any hazards can be addressed at the source. This will not only benefit all team members but will mean it is less likely changes will have to be made later on as the job or task will have been designed/planned to be done by a wide range of workers.

An inclusive risk assessment will help employers implement general control measures that will benefit the whole team, regardless of personal characteristics.  Simple examples of such measures include choosing workstations and chairs that can be adjusted to suit each person, selecting work equipment that is suitable, as far as reasonably practicable, for all workers regardless of their size or strength, ensuring that PPE is available to fit all body types and sizes, and considering the pace of the work.

While research has shown that certain groups, such as young and older workers, women and people with disabilities may be  at increased risk from certain hazards in the workplace, it is important not to stereotype or  make assumptions about what risks a team member may face based on their gender or disability, for example. Good managers will involve their team members in the risk assessment process and ask them about any specific issues or requirements they may have carrying out their jobs. This will enable suitable, person-focused control measures to be implemented where needed to fit the job to the worker.


Conducting inclusive risk assessments is just one part of managing OSH in a diverse team. It is also important to:

  • Ensure safety policies, procedures and communications are inclusive and accessible to all staff. Consider the style, language and format used.
  • Provide adequate occupational safety and health training which is accessible to all workers, tailoring training material to workers’ needs, where necessary. For example, the use of symbols and diagrams rather than written instructions can help to overcome language barriers by enabling risks to be visualised. However, employers may not always be aware that members of their team need information presented in a certain way. For instance, a team member with autism or dyslexia may not have disclosed this information to their manager, and while employers are under no legal duty to make adjustments in the workplace if a disability hasn’t been disclosed, they should ensure all team members understand the training and instructions they are given to do their job safely.
  • Consider the diversity of the workforce whenever changes are being made to the working environment or new equipment is being purchased, so that any changes do not negatively affect any employee or group of employees.
  • Seek advice from a competent source if you are unsure how to assess or control risks faced by an individual worker or a specific group of workers.
  • Create a safety culture where diversity and inclusion are valued. Managers set the attitude their team have about health and safety in the workplace, so create an inclusive working environment in which all staff feel respected and listened to and feel safe to raise any health and safety issues they may have. Make sure channels used to feedback to managers or raise health and safety concerns are accessible to all workers.

We are all different and our health and safety requirements at work will vary at different stages of our working life. Employers that embrace a diverse workforce and ensure all staff are valued and individual differences are respected and taken into account when managing health and safety will ensure their workforce is safe and healthy doing their job , and also benefit from the performance and productivity benefits a diverse team can bring.


Becky Spencer is a writer and editor on health and safety and accident prevention at work, in the home, during leisure activities and on the road. She was previously Managing Editor of RoSPA’s occupational safety & health journals and is currently editor of the European Association for Injury Prevention & Safety Promotion (EuroSafe) newsletter.


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