A new international occupational health and safety management systems standard is currently under development with publication expected in October 2016. A public consultation period for the committee draft of ISO 45001 – Occupational health and safety management standard systems – requirements with guidance for use is now open, with UK comments requested by 8th September 2014. BSI, the UK’s National Standards Body, is leading the consultation process in the UK and interested parties can register their comments online: http://drafts.bsigroup.com/Document/Manage/53407. All comments submitted will then be taken into account by a panel of experts before the UK formally forwards agreed comments to the international committee.
Occupational health and safety continues to be a priority across the world. Despite extensive regulation, existing standards and guidelines work-related disease still kills millions globally each year, with hundreds of thousands more fatalities caused by workplace accidents.
The international committee developing ISO 45001 includes experts from over 50 countries and 20 liaison bodies, all with knowledge and practical experience of occupational health and safety issues and the challenges faced. The new standard is designed to replace the widely-used OHSAS 18001 whilst also taking into account other key documents and discussion points from around the world. Ultimately it will provide a single, clear framework for organizations of all types and sizes who wish to improve their OH&S performance and protect those working on their behalf or who may be affected by the organization’s activities.
ISO 45001 is being developed using a collaborative, consensus-based approach taking into account the views of large and small organizations, government bodies, trades unions and worker representative organizations. To ensure the widest possible input is received from stakeholders ISO and BSI have taken the unusual step of making the current committee draft available to the public. There will be a further public consultation in 2015 after a re-drafting of the standard to reflect comments received following the current consultation.
ISO 45001 has been written to a common text and structure defined by ISO for use by all management system standards. The common structure will ensure that the new standard is broadly aligned to the forthcoming revisions of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 – thus helping those who are implementing multiple management systems.
Some of the benefits of ISO 45001 include:
A single internationally-agreed standard suitable for all organizations worldwide
Alignment with other key management system standards
Less prescriptive requirements which direct organizations to design a management system uniquely suited to each organization’s occupational health and safety needs
Anne Hayes, Head of Market Development for Governance & Risk at BSI, said: “Occupational health and safety is a matter of importance for all businesses worldwide, regardless of their size or sector. It is not an issue that can be ignored especially when it can literally mean life and death for many. Historical workplace tragedies could have been avoided if a secure occupational infrastructure had been in place using a standard such as ISO 45001 for guidance.”
Sach Sankpal, Global President, Honeywell Safety Products offers his thoughts.
There is no denying that the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974 resulted in a huge decline in workplace injuries and accidents across the UK. Indeed, forty years after its launch, the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) research into the Act’s impact found thatnon-fatal injuries have fallen by 77% and fatal injury rates by a massive 85% (1). However, the introduction of new legislation and increased use of protective equipment alone is not entirely responsible for this dramatic reduction. Alongside a greater awareness of safety and increased training and education, it could be argued that the act has also helped change entire attitudes towards health and safety in UK workplaces.
Despite this, according to a report from a recent HSE Board meeting, it seems the downward trend may be beginning to level off (2) and, whilst it would be great if this meant that every preventable injury and accident was being avoided, unfortunately experience tells us this is unlikely to be the case.
However, all is not lost, we’ve seen Safety managers taking their workplace safety approach to the next level and making safety a part of the company’s culture and subsequently helping to continue the downward trend. One prime example of this happening is at a manufacturing facility of a leading cosmetics manufacturer. The company’s approach places a huge importance on housekeeping and visual reinforcement and uses these as indicators of their commitment to safety. Shrewd use of its culture of safety also helps it communicate a variety of corporate messages to employees, site visitors and customers. For example, the company’s strong and very visible commitment to safety and health reinforces the culture and builds brand trust and loyalty.
Housekeeping is a highly visible safety marker. A messy or dirty business can potentially send a negative message about the company’s commitment to safe work – and also to discipline, organisation and accountability. The floors of this cosmetics manufacturer’s 270,000-square-foot operation however are scrubbed, gleaming white and low-slung drop ceilings provide lots of light. Workers look like medical assistants in white smocks and hairnets. The facility is very clean, very bright, and organised. Visual reinforcement also plays a key role in communicating the culture. Safety signs, banners bulletin boards and even video monitors can be found at every turn providing everything from the location of first aid kits and eyewash stations, to safety reminders, warnings and incident record charts.
Every business is different and will have its own ‘indicators’ of its culture of safety. Other typical examples of positive markers that we have seen identified include a safety accountability program in place that establishes goals, a comprehensive safety orientation and regular safety training programme in place which is reviewed and updated annually, accident investigation teams in place, standard exposure and hazard control programmes in place, and businesses putting worker safety first – having a “We cannot afford not to be safe,” approach compared to a “We can’t afford to do that,” approach.
The companies that adopt this approach go beyond simply dictating rules and providing protective equipment. Instead they enable workers - through education, training, leadership and positive communication - to make safe choices for themselves, their co-workers and anyone engaging with the business on a daily basis. By doing this and making safety part of a company’s overall performance goals these safety managers are seeing a positive and tangible impact on the business that goes beyond worker safety and well-being.
So how are they doing this? Generally it can be placed under one or more of the following categories: leadership, education, equipment and analytics. Leadership involves inspiring people to change their daily behaviour and lead by example, ensuring that managers influence safe practises, set goals and provide feedback. Leadership can also be seen in companies where a culture of safety is fully embraced across the business from top to bottom. Next is education; providing safety education and training is a critical element. Rather than simply trying to enforce rules and regulations, effective training encourages workers to adopt best safety practices as a matter of course. Equipment is also important but it is not enough to just have the right equipment for the job, it has to be the correct equipment for the user. Choosing safety products that employees want to wear is a major step in supporting a culture of safety. Providing high-performance, comfortable and stylish personal protective equipment that use innovative technology and design to really address a worker’s needs is crucial. Last but not least is analytics; safety managers need information that helps them evaluate their safety equipment usage and performance. Through tracking, analysis and feedback, they can identify the factors that impact safety product utilisation and performance — spending more time on leadership and less time on enforcement.
Based on these examples, it is clear that, to move forward, companies need to be putting health and safety at the heart of their businesses. Doing so will enable safety managers to keep the momentum going and drive incidences of work place injuries down even further. Safety and wellbeing needs to be an integral part of the manufacturing or business process — just like quality assurance, human resources management, or financial management.
Sach Sankpal, Global President, Honeywell Safety Products
(1) Trends in work-related injuries and ill health in Great Britain since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974 and (2) Trends in workplace injury and the impact of the economic cycle. Both published by the HSE.
It’s important for employees to be aware of their company’s mental wellbeing support available, and for some companies Diana is part of that offering and is a resource offered to staff so that they can talk to someone objective, confidentially, and be supported and challenged to find their best personal solution in times of stress. In this blog Diana shares the approaches and tools that have worked best for her clients from different sectors and industries.
The symptoms are normally a mixture of any of the following:
- frequent headaches and/or difficulty in sleeping - diminished immune system - quick to anger - suspicious attitude - chronic fatigue and bad concentration - self criticism - cynicism, negativity, irritability - emotions quickly out of control.
The very nature of these symptoms makes them feel isolated, even abandoned, so they are in the worst possible place to draw support when it’s most needed, share the problem and workload, and often appear cold, detached and even angry so that they seem less approachable than normal.
Much of Diana'sr coaching is by phone and it is surprising how many of her clients actually just need to express their woes and feel properly listened to, to feel a whole lot better – even though they’ve never met me and I can’t even make them a cup of tea or provide a tissue! Some even get to the solution with me doing nothing more than asking relevant open questions and wind up saying something like ‘I know what I need to do…’. The solution can be obvious once the anxiety, anger or fear that blocks emotional intelligence, is vented.
At other times, it’s often about training the stressed individual to communicate better. Just as one person’s natural modus operandi is to say ‘it’s hardly life or death if I lose this customer’, another will say in the same situation ‘it’s the end of the world…’ Diana uses DISC psychometric profiling to ascertain whether an individual’s communication issues are likely to be about being people pleasers with a possible lack of boundaries and inability to diplomatically push back or say ‘no’. Others may suffer from a lack of assertiveness, oversensitivity or inability to properly address constructive criticism or conflict. All these skills can be learnt.
Sometimes her role is to achieve some ‘quick fixes’ so that the stressed person can return to better productivity as soon as possible. For example, this may be about monitoring time spent and introducing strategies or tweaking behaviours to gradually reduce the time lost anguishing. Meditation and decision making skills can contribute.
The profiling also helps to address stress relating to toxic office relationships, understanding others’ motivations, drivers and fears and to communicate with them, according to their preferences, for best results. Understanding Kilman’s styles for dealing with conflict along with some role playing can be life changing.
A lack of prioritisation lies at the root of a lot of workplace stress. Employees can be helped by knowing the company vision as well as working out their personal vision. Research shows that a sense of progress is motivating, the antithesis of stress, and this progress cannot be achieved if an end point isn’t envisaged. I encourage clients to use Covey’s Quadrant as a prioritisation tool and share it with their teams. An individual (or manager) can quickly see if the priorities have been correctly judged, or whether there are simply too many urgent tasks to fit into one person’s working week.
Where stress is an anxiety about the future, individuals can be taught how to focus on their area of influence only and let go of the rest. This allows them to come up with a specific, plan and focus on the present, achieving the plan, which removes the overwhelming nature of the problem. Many people are helped by establishing a clear, timelined ‘Priorities Chart’: breaking down the workload into up to 6 Vital Few specific goals, a short journey goal, barriers that may hinder progress, and key actions for the week ahead. A load is lifted off their shoulders by simply slicing overwhelming must-dos into achievable chunks. And by scoring themselves out of 10, and revisiting the score weekly or so, they can feel motivating progress and keep on track. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘A goal properly set is half way reached’.
A by-product of stress is not being able to see the wood for the trees, so having all one’s priorities ‘chunked down’ onto one sheet of paper returns clarity, and decision making ability, as well as a sense of purpose. These people can benefit from considering Pareto’s law also known as the 80/20 rule: where 20% of your actions generate 80% of your results. It can be liberating to know what your 20% is.
Best practice delegationcan also be learned. Often people are working untenable hours rather than putting somebody else in the same situation. They need to be helped to see how much of their job list could be done by someone else and why they are hanging onto tasks - perhaps because they have such high standards that they fear no-one will do the task quite like they would? They can learn to judge at the outset which undertakings should involve others, and to ask for each task ‘is this something I can delegate’, and can thus achieve so much more and concentrate on the things that really need them. By starting by delegating the items that will repeat themselves most or those that need least explanation, the ‘delegation muscle’ quickly tones up!
The most useful actions undertaken by Health and Safety Managers and HRs to alleviate the problem for my clients seem to be:
- Clarifying employees’ business priorities and roles, ensuring non conflicting roles - Promoting positive working relationships to avoid conflict, and engaging the support and resources of line management and colleagues to assist stressed individuals - Rotating repetitive jobs - Facilitating time off to replenish and recharge - Ensuring people know how important they are - Honest conversations when the first signs of stress manifest themselves - Finally, training managers not only in stress management, including sensitivity after long leaver from work after a life changing event. Also relevant is good communication especially of organisational change; healthy and supportive delegation without micromanagement where possible; understanding their teams’ personal priorities; the importance of co-invention in delegation; and delivering specific feedback: the best praise reinforces a sense of identity when delivered, and criticism avoids destroying identity when negative. Diana says she 's yet to meet a stressed individual who feels they get enough recognition for a job well done! About the author
Diana is a business growth coach, specialising in stress and productivity , the majority of her clients present with problems of work overload (perceived or actual), anxiety inducing deadlines and communication issues.
Safety shocker as most British workers untrained in basic fire precautions
Four-fifths of British workers would not feel confident enough if confronted with a small fire at work, new figures suggest.
These are the findings of a UK-based fire risk assessment company, which found worrying numbers of workers in offices, industrial settings and the retail sector completely untrained in basic fire safety.
According to FireUK.co.uk, up to 95% of staff claim to have had no training in what to do if they encounter a fire in the workplace, with many not even knowing which extinguisher to use on different types of fire.
"This paints a thoroughly depressing picture of workplace fire safety in Britain," said Mark Hall, "and it's one that could cost both lives and millions of pounds in property."
According to figures obtained in face-to-face polling of workers from a cross-section of working professions:
79% of workers said they wouldn't have the confidence to fight a small workplace rubbish bin fire
95% said they had never been trained in fire safety
83% didn't realise the need for different extinguishers to fight different types of fires
16% didn't know where their nearest fire exit to their work area is
The fact that regulations mean that all fire extinguishers have to be predominantly red contributes to people's nervousness in fighting fires; and is a major factor that underlines the need for education in the different approaches to fire safety, FireUK.co.uk says.
"At least virtually all respondents knew what to do in the event of a fire – raise the alarm and get out of the building," said Mark Hall, "but it's something that most people have worked out for themselves instead of being taught best practice."
"But when it comes to fighting the blaze, most people say they won't because they think they might make things worse. And in the current state of lack of fire education, that's the best thing they can do."
At least three people told the survey team that while they had received fire training, it was only given grudgingly so that their employers could obtain a fire safety certificate, an attitude to fire safety that is worrying to say the very least. But on the bright side, 98% of those polled have taken part in a planned fire evacuation drill in the last 12 months.
Other results from the survey revealed more depressing statistics about how workers respond to an emergency situation:
21% admitted posting on social media that the fire alarm had gone off before vacating the premises
1% didn't know the phone number for the emergency services
"Is 'The office is on fire LOL' more important than getting out alive?" Hall asks, "Seconds make the difference in the event of fire. Facebook can wait.
"And anyone doesn't know 999 by now, we're amazed they got through the job interview in the first place."
FireUK.co.uk is convinced that the only way that companies can address this potentially dangerous gap is through staff training, both for new staff and employees who have been there some time and think they've seen it all.
The company says that even the most experienced staff freeze when faced with a fire emergency, simply because they've never been told what to do.
"It doesn't cost the Earth to train your staff in fire safety and procedures. And in the end it could save lives, and quite possibly save your business."
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in Dublin has launched a new major resource for Health and Safety - its own e-learning portal http://hsalearning.ie. The portal hosts on-line health and safety courses aimed at employers, and employees across industry and high risk sectors such as Construction. The short awareness-raising courses are free of charge to access and have been developed by the HSA with the aim of improving practical awareness of workplace safety, health and welfare.
In addition there are a number of videos providing Top Tips on subjects such as:
Slips, Trips and Falls;
HSA Chief Executive Martin O’Halloran said, “Employers and businesses now require low cost and flexible ways of raising awareness around health and safety. Employees also want to be able to improve their skills in practical, flexible and user-friendly ways. On-line learning has now been embraced by so many sectors, in terms of workplace learning, that it makes sense for the HSA to take the lead in this area.”
HSA’s Education Manager, Joanne Harmon said, “These short on-line courses will also be of huge interest to anyone delivering education or training around health and safety. The group manager facility means that as an employer, manager or teacher, you can register groups of learners to take courses and monitor their progress. They can work while in class or during their own time and at their own pace and can log on and off when it suits them, returning to courses when it’s convenient.
“We have also developed a number of courses aimed at students in primary, post-primary, further and higher education. Although not a formal qualification, certification can form part of an individual’s training record for work or continuous professional development purposes which is a huge incentive for students, educators and employers alike.
“We will continue to grow the number of courses on offer across all sectors. Anyone can enrol and complete any courses of benefit to them, their employees, colleagues or students. Whatever your role will boost your knowledge and awareness levels of health and safety relevant to you.”
Short courses, ranging from between 30 to 140 minutes, are available in a range of sectors including: construction, education and healthcare. Further courses to be launched this year will be aimed at the small business, transport and farm safety sectors.
To see the range of HSA courses on offer, browse and/or register at http://hsalearning.ie. If you ve reviewed a course why post your comments?
It won't come as a surprise to managers that the excellent Health and Safety Executive Website (http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/) has one of its busiest sections devoted to work related stress. For Occupational Health Companies helping businesses look after their most valuable and appreciating asset takes up over half the case load. A total of 10.8 million working days were lost in Britain to work related stress in 2012. The problem's getting bigger too. Whilst the HSE has plenty of literature and tips on measuring the stress within any organisation and no end of leaflets for employees and employers ( and I do recommend you dip in to them) it often doesn't have to be that complicated.
Obviously if you are brewing a toxic environment, not training your staff, giving them unrealistic workloads in ever shorter timescales people are going to fall over. But that was 1980s. The reality is that professionals and business owners know the value of training and environmental issues that affect productivity. Compliance with EU regulations and the growth of the academic research that underpins good management has resulted in managers that have in place good recording of absence and case management protocols. That's very 1990s . Many employers value and have in place contracts with occupational health companies. So why is it often so difficult? Mental Health issues such as depression can arrive with no precipitants and strike at the core of what it is that we are and we present to the world. A shrinking social arena, poor sleep, inability to make simple decisions, tearfulness, irritability, poor concentration all wrapped up in a view of the world that has become grey, bland and without interest. The sapping of the ability to take simple actions means treatments are often slow to start and communication with friends family and work diminish. HR may have good protocols in place and Work Doctors like me at the ready but the nature of depression ( and many other mental health problems) is that the individual is in a state where they lack the basic ability to interact efficiently with you.
If that wasn't bad enough I have perceived a general reluctance to make a simple supportive social contact by HR especially in cases of mental health problems. Well it's tricky isn't it? What do you say? Will I make things worse? The sense of isolation and abandonment felt by the employees that eventually land at my door is palpable. Well here is a rule you can commit to memory - It is always, without exception OK to make contact. Ok got it? Without exception, always OK - not many rules like that these days are there?
Ask them how they are. Nothing technical. Send them the business in house mag. Wish them well. Tell them you are looking forward to seeing them and make it easy for them to visit and have a coffee. Chat about Eastenders, Chelsea ... anything at all ( actually Eastenders may well tip both of you over the edge, but you get the point) - non problem talk. People recover form depression eventually and the insights they gain often make them more robust employees in the future and they won't forget your kindness. It just might be the small encouragement to have a coffee that leads to a common sense phased reintroduction to the workplace. One in four of us are going to experience a depressive illness in our lifetimes - five times more common than diabetes and heart disease, a well meant word, a thoughtfully phrased card and an invite for a coffee might just be the most productive thing you do for the business all year
Dr Mark O'Connor
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From an IT perspective Health & Safety is a ‘No Brainer’ when it comes to investment in systems.
Paperwork is in abundance for recording Accidents, issuing Contractor Permits,
Compliance and Risk Assessment processes have to be repeated endlessly,
Communication to colleagues on good practice for topics such as Slips, Trips and Falls is continuous
and to cap it off nicely Health & Safety Departments are very often understaffed. Those staff that are assigned to Health & Safety teams need to be out at the coal face not sitting in an office filling in forms.
It is abundantly clear to every one that the availability of low cost tablets, laptops and smart phones supported by systems should be revolutionising Health & Safety Departments throughout the country. Sadly enactment and realising the benefits is mostly far from the case.
How many times over the last 12 months have I seen spreadsheets endemic and considered satisfactory reporting and analytical tools. Hands up which companies have truly implemented workflow to push out responsibilities for completing Risk Assessments and Compliance to Supervisors and Line Managers. Pitifully just a handful if truth be told!
How many companies enthuse staff and managers to report accidents, incidents and near misses electronically from their workplace or whilst on the move from a tablet or smart phone. When did you hear of Safe Ways of Work documentation and Best Practice guidelines available to staff in the field using Smart Phones.
Speaking to many Health and Safety Managers in recent times they would generally accept the benefits from the introduction of technology to staff and the company are considerable.
So ask yourself – am I go e the catalyst for change because if you are you had better start planning fast because it s not an easy road and to make it all happen requires different skills, a decent budget and a clear roadmap of where you want to be! If IT are promising you the mobile device infrastructure by 2016 you had better start by getting your house in order now to make use of the technology that s coming. It s going to happen just as night follows day and you re going to need your own strategy and roadmap. Otherwise 2016 will arrive and you ll still be using Excel and Word.
So start thinking what systems will the company need, who will use them, how will they be trained, and importantly who s going to do the daily IT administration so the team are liberated to be the Health & Safety catalysts throughout the organisation. Known, seen and respected throughout.
Clive Charlesworth t: 01932 830111
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A recent quote....'If the principle of paying by results were to be applied to training in the battle to stem food poisoning in the UK, most trainers would be broke'.......rather sweeping and a touch unkind to those many trainers who it might be argued, are managing to at least prevent the number of cases going even higher.
But there is a serious point being made. Obligatory training......or obligatory by implication....was introduced about 20 years ago. It placed the responsibility on operators to provide training for their staff.....commensurate to the risks. Sensibly it was a response to the fact that most cases of food poisoning are caused by carelessness by food handlers. It also recognised that notified cases were but the tip of an increasingly large iceberg. So it made sense to educate handlers and there then followed a surge in the number of people out to capture a potentially huge training market. Recognising this, controls and standards needed to be introduced and Awarding Bodies emerged to introduce credibility. Their influence was very evident though in recent years the whole training arena has changed as someone said recently.....it's now a free for all....and that's not necessarily a good thing. So what's it all about?
There is increasing concern that too often the quality of training leaves much to be desired. The influence of the Awarding Bodies (CIEH, RSPH and others) has diminished to the extent that many trainers issue 'qualifying' certificates of their own. Though wrong to criticize wholesale, experience suggests that behind some of them , quality training is lacking. Many companies very responsibly established their own training programme and are able to issue valid certificates with confidence and these are wholly acceptable.
Exams and training leading to them must retain credibility . There are fears that because of the lack of effective monitoring, we will continue to see an unacceptable level of food poisoning in spite of the industry's massive investment in training over the years. Even so it's encouraging that some employers are returning to the Awarding Bodies who they see as standard bearers. And the Awarding Bodies have reduced their exam fees in an effort to recapture lost users.
And the new dimension of e-learning is not helping. Again, driven by flexibility but more often by cost, an increasing number of food handlers/companies are choosing this method of training. Whilst there are many good on-line packages, too many are poor....both in terms of production and technical content. It's refreshing that during their audits eho's are routinely examining and questioning the quality of training and qualifications arising therefrom. As an eho colleague said....'we no longer simply accept an impressive looking piece of paper. We are more interested in how it was achieved'. With fewer central controls and employers realising that they have wide discretion as to how they achieve their training requirements, this is a good way to ensure that the wider food industry gets back on track and we get quality training. Given that, we probably have our best shot at seeing a long overdue drop in cases of food poisoning in the UK.
.....so what's the answer....? Perhaps we should look critically at the contents of our various syllabuses. Is the weighting of emphasis correct? Certainly for the more basic courses there is a case for devoting more time to personal cleanliness/health and hygienic handling. Closely followed by more attention to be given to the importance of temperature control given that the majority of cases of food poisoning involve poor temperature control somewhere along the line. But above all operators of food businesses must recognise that it is their responsibility in law to determine who has to be trained and to what level. This involves a risk assessment by someone who is familiar with the process involved and the likely risks.
Operators need to ensure that whoever is responsible for training is both competent and capable. Knowledgeable people may not always be the best to communicate the message. Then there's the issue of language. A huge amount of written material is available in foreign languages. Maybe there's a need to teach in a particular language where the number justifies it. Selecting the right course and the appropriate exam is crucial. The Awarding Bodies are obliged to set a standard and they themselves are vetted by an independent body. But other courses and exams are available and it's important to ensure that these satisfy all the necessary criteria. Course and exam integity by trainers is vital. Whilst having a 100% pass record is desireable, passing those who really aren't up to scratch does no-one any favours.....employer and handler alike.
And sometimes there might be a case for designing a course specifically for a particular industry. Whilst many of the basic requirements may be similar, dairies and slaughterhouses have little in common inwhich case a tailor made course is more appropriate. Some of the Awarding Bodies already offer off the shelf specific industry courses. Otherwise use someone who can put together one especially. And there can be benefits in using a course which clearly identifies with the workplace involved.
There is a wide range of complementary training aids in the form of DVD's, videos etc. Not all are good, many are mediocre but there are visual aids that are excellent to help the trainer and these are the ones preferred.
And as for on line learning? It's worth examining who is behind the package. Apart from the quality of production, which is important in terms of being an attractive presentation, find out who had the technical input. They don't have to be qualified eho's but you certainly need someone who has a food hygiene/safety background and who knows what they are talking about.
There is the thorny issue of how much training and retraining is necessary. Initial guidance was given in the very useful Industry Guides, currently being amended. At the end of the day it comes back to the employer/operator to decide and to ensure that the level of training is adequate in order to minimise the risk of food poisoning happening.
Graham Aston MCIEH; FRSPH; FCIH e: infoeatonpubs.net t: 01932 229001
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The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has identified key priority areas for occupational safety and health (OSH) research that will help Europe reach its 2020 goals. Priorities have been set around four major themes: (1) demographic change; (2) globalisation and the changing world of work; (3) safe new technologies; and (4) new or increasing occupational exposure to chemical and biological agents.
Setting priorities will allow better coordination of research activities and more efficient allocation of resources in the coming years. This is vital in helping to translate OSH research into practical and accessible workplace solutions that will have an impact on the safety and health of workers.
EU-OSHA’s response to the challenges currently facing Europe are detailed in a report entitled ‘Priorities for occupational safety and health research in Europe: 2013–2020’. The report emphasises the fact that OSH research can contribute to meeting the goals set by the Europe 2020 strategy and the Horizon 2020 programme for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA, said: ‘At this time of economic crisis, a Europe-wide OSH strategy is needed more than ever, and issues related to safety and health at work need to be placed high on the political agenda. The link between OSH, competitiveness and business performance must be emphasised. Social stability and sustainability should go hand in hand with economic growth.’
She added: ‘EU-OSHA has a key role to play in ensuring that high-level OSH research is translated into practical, grass-roots workplace solutions. It is vital that the Agency coordinates the research and communicates the risks to both workers and employers.’
Therefore, EU-OSHA intends to follow-up on this report and will organise a seminar in 2014 to discuss a short-list of OSH research priorities and next steps to be taken.
Taking into account the latest developments in scientific knowledge in the field, changes in the world of work and trends that have an impact on OSH, the report considers challenges such as:
· Demographic change – as the population of Europe ages, the challenge is to enable older workers to remain active and productive for longer and increase the proportion of older workers in employment. An increase in female employment rates means that we need a better understanding of the OSH issues that specifically affect women. Migration is also adding to the diversity of the workforce. We need to understand how to adapt workplace design and work organisation to address these changes in the make-up of the workforce.
· Globalisation and the changing world of work – restructuring of organisations, the spread of information and communications technology and a shift from manufacturing to services have all led to job insecurity, work intensification, new working patterns and often unsociable working hours. These increase workers’ exposure to psychosocial risks. We need a better understanding of the links between psychosocial risk factors and morbidity and mortality to develop effective prevention strategies.
· New technologies – as Europe progresses towards a greener, more sustainable economy, there is an increased focus on renewable energy technologies and on waste management and recycling. These relatively new and still progressing industries bring new risks, for example exposure to electromagnetic fields or to biohazards. We need to understand these risks and ensure that OSH research is integrated in the design and development of all new processes and technologies – prevention through design.
· Exposure to chemical and biological agents – fatal occupational accidents are decreasing but fatalities arising from occupational diseases are increasing. The development of innovative products and materials and the shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy has led to new technologies and this has brought about new OSH challenges. Workers are exposed to an increasing number of biological and chemical agents, endocrine disruptors, new technologies such as nanotechnology and the combined or mixed exposures to dangerous substances.. We need improved detection and identification methods to ensure the safe use of these chemical and biological agents.
These OSH research priorities were discussed within the context of the Europe 2020 strategy and the Horizon 2020 programme at a seminar in Brussels on 8–9 October 2013 entitled ‘Moving towards 2020 – priorities for OSH research for the years 2013-20’. The seminar was attended by research directors and representatives of funding bodies, Member States and the European Commission.
The British Safety Council welcomed the launch of the Government’s Health and Work Service, which will offer non-compulsory medical assessments and treatment plans to those sick and off work for more than four weeks. This scheme will apply to England, Wales and Scotland.
At present, staff who are off work for more than four weeks are considered to be long-term sick and entitled to Statutory Sick Pay of almost £90 per week from their employers. This will not change. Under the scheme, employers or GPs will be able to refer employees for a work-focused occupational health assessment.
This is intended to identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their GP and their employer, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly. This may include fitness for work advice, medical care, working from home or retraining.
The scheme, which it is estimated will save companies up to £70m a year in reduced sickness pay and related costs, is not compulsory. Workers will be allowed to refuse to be assessed or to follow any course of action or treatment recommended.
Alex Botha, chief executive of the British Safety Council, said: “This latest initiative is a valuable contribution in helping to address the issues preventing employees returning to work. It is important to remember that prevention is better than cure. So the focus should remain on preventing sickness absence in the first place. The British Safety Council will continue to play its part in gathering the evidence concerning the real cost of injury and ill health at work and the benefits to business that result from putting place sensible and proportionate measures to manage risks to health and safety.”
Alex went on to say: “Many of our members have extensive experience on how to prevent and manage sickness absence by, for example, putting in place stress management standards, implementing effective wellbeing programmes that tackle lifestyle issues and by the leadership their organisations model to help improve the health and safety culture in their workplaces.
“The benefits to the business of managing occupational health and wellbeing effectively can be shown in various ways including a reduction in sickness absence per employee, reducing lost production time, savings in insurance premiums, lower labour turnover and reduced liability and reduced legal costs. We published a guide to assist businesses in doing this in 2013 called ‘The business case of OSH interventions’. We will continue our work with and support our members, large and small, to promote better understanding and sharing of good practice of occupational health management.”