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Empowering Women and Transforming Workplaces: A Conversation with Alan Stevens of IOSH

When speaking with Alan Stevens, his passion for OSH was palpable. As the Head of Strategic Engagement at IOSH, he's responsible for global collaboration with entities such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and 38 Country leaders to influence and enhance the workplace safety and health agenda. 

Stevens' role at IOSH is multifaceted, encompassing not only collaboration with international entities but also the development and implementation of innovative strategies to promote OSH. From advising governments and NGOs to facilitating safety and health awareness training in around 130 countries, his work is shaping the future of the profession. "We're not just about setting standards; we're about making real change," he says, reflecting the ethos of IOSH.  

In our conversation, Stevens made a keen observation about the power of consumer behaviour in shaping OSH practices. He emphasises the shift in consumer values, stating, "the consumer is different now, the drivers for purchasing are different now to what they've been in the past. The consumer, the modern young consumer wants to buy goods that have been produced fairly, ethically and responsibly." This insight points to a growing awareness and demand for ethical production, which in turn is shaping global OSH standards. In illustrating this point, Stevens notes, "In the garment industry, take for a factory in Bangladesh, for example; now the major brands are expecting and demanding good work practices, and this is great for emerging economies." His observations underscore the transformative power of consumer choices in driving positive change in workplace safety and health, not just in developed nations but across the globe. 

But what truly sets Stevens apart is his commitment to empowering women and transforming workplaces, particularly in developing nations. He shared a poignant anecdote about working with the shea butter workers in north Ghana, a community of about 100 families. "They make the most beautiful rich Shea butter. It's the most desirable product, but they don't get anything out of the value chain," he said with concern. 

IOSH, under Stevens' guidance, is working with international partners to train these women, supply extra money to mechanise some of their processes, and help market the products. But the journey does not end there. Stevens is acutely aware of the immediate OSH risks from their current processes and the new risks that mechanisation will introduce. "Our role is to deliver training and interventions for them to stop them getting hurt right now.  And then as they introduce the mechanisation, we're going to have the training ready so that they are trained not just on how to operate the new machine, but also how you use it safely," he explained with determination. 

The stories Stevens shared are not isolated incidents but part of a broader effort to empower  women in the workplace. He spoke too of the ladies who grow seaweed in Zanzibar, who had a very difficult life, scarred  by exploitation. Through investment and training over several years, these women are now prosperous, their children are in school, and their position in society has been raised. "The men now respect the women more because the women are doing great things and earning good money," he said with pride. 

Stevens' work with women extends to the healthcare sector also. He spoke of a project in collaboration with the World Health Organization to design a training product for healthcare workers in Africa. The goal is to train a person in every single public healthcare facility in Africa as a focal point around good OSH practice. "We've got to look after those that look after us," he notes.  

The anecdotes and insights Stevens shared are not just stories; they are a testament to the transformative power of OSH and the role of IOSH in shaping the future of the profession. The World Congress, coming to Sydney in November 2023, will be a platform to highlight these perspectives. Stevens is excited about the opportunity to learn and share at the World Congress: "I expect that both my colleagues and I are going to learn a lot and, hopefully, people will learn a little bit from us too," he said with a grin. 

The World Congress is not just an event; it's a movement towards the prevention of harm on a global scale. It’s about collaboration, learning from each other, and driving change. Stevens' work with IOSH is a shining example of this collaborative spirit. From empowering women in Africa to influencing healthcare practices, his efforts are a beacon of hope and a model for others to follow. 

As our conversation drew to a close, Stevens' passion for OSH and his commitment to making a difference were increasingly evident. His work is not just about policies and standards; it is about people, their lives, and their well-being. It is about empowering women, transforming workplaces, and building a safer, healthier world for all. "I really don't want to live in a world where there's a two-track human race where, you know, half are doing great, and the other half are left behind. It's just not right." 

With leaders like Alan Stevens guiding the way, the future of OSH is filled with promise. His dedication to the prevention of harm, his commitment to empowering women, and his transformative approach to workplaces are more than just ideals; they are actionable paths towards a safer, healthier world. The World Congress, with its unique platform, will be a testament to these efforts. It is an event that promises to bring together the brightest minds in OSH, including Stevens, to share stories, insights, and collaboration. The impact of this gathering will undoubtedly resonate across the globe, leaving a lasting legacy in the field of OSH and in the lives of those it seeks to protect. 

As we look forward to the World Congress, one thing is clear: the prevention of harm is not just a goal; it's a mission, a calling, and a shared responsibility. And in the words of Alan Stevens, "It's just not right to settle for anything less.”  

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