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Food for thought 06/06/2018

Since the publication of Dame Carol Black’s seminal review of the health of the working-age population 10 years ago, there has been a noticeable shift in responsibility for workers’ well-being to employers. Workplace health-promotion initiatives linked to what people do outside of work in terms of eating, sleeping and exercising are increasingly common, but the jury’s still out on whether they constitute interest or interference. Tina Weadick investigates

Kombucha. I bet your first thought on reading that was “bless you!” but actually, this type of fermented tea, produced from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (yum…), is the latest superfood that’s going to work miracles for our overall health. Or so it’s claimed.

The truth is, no particular food or combination of foods alone can make us totally healthy, but by making a range of sensible lifestyle choices, including around diet, we can improve our chances of living well and, as more and more evidence is showing, working more productively. 

Few of us deliberately set out to be unhealthy. We spend most of our waking hours at work and, while we’re there, our employers would prefer us to be firing on all cylinders. If, as the World Health Organisation says, “the wealth of business depends on the health of workers”,1 employer interest in the likes of what their workers eat, how much exercise they do, and their smoking and drinking habits is both understandable and appreciated. Or is it?

Food as fuel – and foe

The idea of looking after the well-being of workers, as well as their health and safety, is not new (although it is still far from being standard practice in all workplaces). Recently, however, some employers have been extending their approach from simply providing for the well-being of employees while they’re at work to encouraging them to look after themselves once they’ve clocked off. Initiatives include things like making healthy options available on the menu in the staff canteen, providing assistance to stop smoking or reduce alcohol consumption, and offering free or subsidised gym membership. 

The argument goes that the workplace is the ideal platform for such initiatives, as it’s where people spend most of their time. According to Mark Davies of 7Futures, which has been helping companies develop and deliver well-being strategies for almost 20 years, “studies on the most effective ways of nudging people on health have revealed the top three avenues to be via GPs, schools and employers”. Moreover, a 2010 study on healthy eating strategies in the workplace concluded that “using the worksite as a setting for influencing health by influencing dietary patterns holds considerable promise and may be instrumental in reducing workers’ risk of chronic diseases”.2

It has long been recognised and documented that so-called lifestyle-related factors, such as poor diet, substance abuse and lack of exercise, have a significant impact on work-related sickness absence, particularly when combined with work factors, such as shift patterns, job design, degree of autonomy, etc. However, there is also increasing evidence that people’s eating habits, for example, directly affect workplace productivity. A 2012 investigation of the effects of physical activity, dietary behaviour and Body Mass Index (BMI) on the workplace productivity of employees in construction, manufacturing, transportation and services industries found that BMI (of females) and access to fast food (for males) were inversely associated with productivity.3

Part of the reason for this is the effect of certain foods and drinks on the brain. Angela Steel, director of SuperWellness, a leading provider of nutrition-centred well-being corporate programmes, explains: “A diet high in sugar, carbohydrates and other stimulants, such as caffeine, with the associated blood-sugar crashes, is particularly damaging for concentration, alertness and information-processing. There is also a strong connection between nutrition and sleep – again, with blood sugars playing a big part. The knock-on effect of poor sleep and fatigue can be a huge threat to workplace safety, as well as health.”

Mark Steele wholeheartedly agrees, going so far as to call the problem of fatigue at work an “epidemic” and laying much of the blame at caffeine’s door. He says: “We all have sleep pressure, which builds during the day. But caffeine, which is the most used drug in the world, dilutes our sleep drive. If you haven’t slept well, your stress hormones haven’t had a chance to calm down. If you start the day with high cortisol levels, you have less capacity to cope as the day progresses. Your working-memory capacity diminishes as a result. You start to feel brain-foggy, your ability to concentrate wanes and you take risks you wouldn’t normally take. The fundamental cognitive quality of the mind is affected.”

Teach don’t preach

So, it seems fairly straightforward: if you love your coffee, your chips and your couch, and the physical and mental effects of your lifestyle choices are adversely impacting on your performance at work, then your employer has a right to be concerned. Except it’s not that simple. The TUC regularly warns of the danger of approaches that can be seen as employers interfering in what workers do in their own time and used as an alternative to prevention. The current edition of its Work and Well-Being guide4 claims: “Many employers prefer to look at changing the behaviour of the workers rather than the workplace. They seem to think that, rather than remove stress in the work, they should introduce on-site massage or after-work yoga classes. This approach is little to do with promoting well-being in the workplace and instead is using the workplace to promote changes in how workers live their lives.”

The union body also points out that it’s often the work itself that causes people to turn to tobacco, alchohol and junk food for comfort in the first place. For example, a Canadian study5 in 2013 found that more cases of high blood pressure among men could be attributed to low job control than to poor health behaviours, such as smoking, drinking, poor diet, etc.

And employers themselves are often wary of coming across as patronising or preachy by running such initiatives. A 2015 review6 of the literature in this area defined the difficulty as “determining which aspects contributing to employees’ health those in management or leadership roles should have responsibility for and to what extent”. It found there was general reluctance among employers “to enforce particular behaviours outside the scope of occupational health and safety” for fear of being seen to be “meddling”, and general agreement that it is “first and foremost up to the individual to maintain an acceptable level of personal health”, with the workplace “playing a more minor role that should support employee health”.

That individuals have primary responsibility for looking after their own health and well-being cannot be disputed. As noted by the CIPD, in its 2016 policy report on well-being: “People will only benefit from well-being initiatives at work if they are willing to participate in them and take care of their health and well-being outside work as well”.7

This is why, says Angela Steel, employers must take an educational and awareness-raising approach when it comes to health-promotion initiatives. She explains: “In our experience, offering eye-opening information and useful knowledge is the key. It’s the difference between making someone feel empowered because they understand what to look for on a food label or making them feel preached to because they are being told simply to ‘cut down’ on sugar or to ‘lose weight’. Creating an environment that makes healthy choices easier during the working day is a step in the right direction. It isn’t enough, however, to have a long-term or significant impact. This is why education and engagement also play a big part in equipping people with the knowledge and motivation to make healthy choices wherever they are and for the rest of their lives.”

Olympic triple-jumper Nathan Douglas, who works alongside Mark Davies as a mind coach, adds: “We don’t nanny people, we educate and motivate them to take more responsibility for themselves. Our approach is one of health promotion and education. You can’t make anyone do anything, so instead we inspire and educate people to be aware of the damage they are doing to themselves. Yes, we get push-back from some but it’s those who do care about their health that we are targeting.”

The best way for employers to ensure they raise awareness rather than hackles with lifestyle-related programmes is to involve the workers in their development. The TUC, naturally, advocates this approach, as does the CIPD, which notes that “if the organisation involves employees in the design and implementation of its health and well-being programmes from the outset, it is more likely to gain buy-in from them”.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, such programmes should be holistic, encompassing prevention, promotion and, where necessary, rehabilitation. As Dr Stephen Luttrell, medical director at Bupa UK, pointed out in a recent article for the Chartered Management Institute: “Well-being is not just about free gym membership and fruit bowls; we have to see it in terms of the wider work environment”.

References

  1. http://www.who.int/occupational_health/healthy_workplaces/en/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737584/#R34
  3. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/research/ias/Wellbeing-at-work-review-Jan-31.pdf
  4. https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/work-and-well-being-2015.pdf
  5. http://journal.cpha.ca/index.php/cjph/article/view/3495
  6. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-015-2029-2
  7. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/health-well-being-agenda_2016-first-steps-full-potential_tcm18-10453.pdf
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A little more conversation 09/03/2018

Tina Weadick explores the attitudes to and initiatives around mental health at work, looking at why it has been (and remains) a fairly tricky issue to deal with

Fans of 1990s American TV sitcoms will no doubt remember the wonderful series ‘Frasier’ and the titular character – a radio psychiatrist – played by the inimitable Kelsey Grammer. At the end of every radio phone-in show, Dr Frasier Crane would sign off by wishing his listeners “good mental health”.

More than 20 years later, “good mental health” is as much of a holy grail as ever. One in four people in the UK will suffer from mental ill health at some point in their lives1 and, in the workplace, it remains the leading cause of sickness absence. In 2016/17, HSE statistics revealed that 12.5 million of the 31.2 million working days lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal injuries were because of stress, anxiety and depression (40%). On average, each person suffering took 23.8 days off.2

There have been myriad initiatives over the last 20 years – Securing Health Together, the HSE’s stress Management Standards, the work by Dame Carol Black, among many, many others – yet, the incidence of work-related ill health, and mental-health problems in particular, has remained broadly flat over the last ten years, or so.

Lately, however, there has been a renewed focus on mental health in the workplace, with a plethora of government reports published on the subject, as well as the development of new training on and approaches to tackling it. This may or may not have anything to do with the wider, public movements like ‘MeToo’ and ‘TimesUp’. While not about mental health per se, what these and similar campaigns do help with is breaking down stigmas and encouraging people to come forward and speak up if they have a problem. 

According to Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, this is crucial to solving the problem. He says: “The key is to get people talking – in the case of mental health, about a subject that is still taboo in some workplaces. A lot of people with mental-health issues will lie about why they are off work, so one solution is to get more people talking about it openly. Having more public acceptance of mental-health issues is important, but such acceptance is absolutely vital in the workplace. We need mental health to be seen no differently to physical health.”

Training courses 

To this end, the British Safety Council (BSC) has recently launched a series of training courses designed to “start difficult conversations” and support people suffering from mental ill health.3 

Robinson explains: “We have developed three levels of training: ‘Start the Conversation’, which is aimed at everyone in an organisation and lasts 45 minutes. The idea is to get people to start talking openly about mental health and the issues around it. People understand that every individual has mental health and sometimes it’s better than other times, just like physical health.

“The second level is ‘Manage the Conversation’. We realised that most people go to their manager or supervisor first, so we need to equip these people – anyone with line-management responsibility – to be able to have those conversations.”

The third level of the BSC’s training involves delivery of the two-day Mental Health First-Aid England (MHFA) course.4 MHFA training courses were first developed in Australia in 2000 and have since evolved into a global movement, with licensed programmes in 24 countries. They came to the UK in 2007, as part of a national approach to improving mental health. MHFA courses teach people to spot the symptoms of mental-health issues, offer initial help and guide sufferers towards further support. 

No judgement

Andy Flockton, an approved MHFA instructor who has been delivering courses across the UK for more than ten years, explains that the approach is about “acting on the distress a person is in and asking ‘are you OK?’ We teach people to respond in a non-judgemental way. Often, that is what causes the most stress – thinking you are going to be judged. Often, sufferers just want someone to listen.”

He goes on: “I like to use the ‘stress bucket’ analogy: imagine we all have a container that demonstrates what we can cope with before we break. Life experience has a great impact on our capacity to cope. I could have a thimble, you could have a skip – it doesn’t mean I’m weaker than you, just that I’ve had different life experiences and thus more vulnerability. The role of the mental-health first-aider is to spot who are the thimbles and who are the skips, but also people themselves need to know what their own level is and what their personal stress signature is.” 

Transport for London

One large employer that has been successfully using the MHFA approach – as part of a much wider programme of employee mental-health support – is Transport for London. The company has run a Stress Reduction Group (SRG), centred around resilience-building, for more than 15 years and a Trauma Support Group for train drivers and station staff, among whom certain types of stress and, in severe cases, psychological trauma are, understandably, more common. In addition, it carries out ‘hot spot’ work, where feedback from staff is acted upon to target teams among whom stress and mental health are bigger issues, and offers face-to-face counselling as well as a 24-hour employee-assistance telephone counselling and well-being service.

Ray Roberts and Ben Gatty, of TFL’s Mental Health Team, explain: “MHFA is now a firm part of TFL’s Health & Well-being Improvement Plan. Last year, we trained 170 people in mental-health peer support as part of our Supporting Colleagues Network (SCN) programme and will train about the same number again this year. A lot of the focus of training is on boundaries, as we want to make sure that staff have sufficient input to enable help of this sort to be safe.”

The BSC, MHFA and TFL all agree that early identification of mental-health problems is key to assisting sufferers, but this is often the hardest part – especially if those suffering won’t open up. The best way to tackle this is to raise awareness of mental-health issues and embed that awareness in the company culture such that any stigma is removed. Say Roberts and Gatty: “Clearly, it takes time to embed such a culture but, at TFL, we are progressing this by working with the workforce from multiple angles. 

“For example, towards the end of 2017, we delivered presentations to the Board of Directors and saw our mental-health peer-support network grow. We are also working on incorporating mental health into HR policies and procedures, and into core training. As leaders, managers are particularly influential, so we’ll shortly be developing mental-health components in the annual CPD for all managers, too.”

Government response

All of these approaches are very much in line with the Government’s current thinking on the issue, if its responses to recent independent reviews are anything to go by. In February 2018, following publication of Good Work – the review of modern working practices by Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts5 – the Government’s response highlighted the fact that “well-being at work not only refers to an individual’s mental health or satisfaction at work, it also relates to how supportive and inclusive an organisation is, helping to retain and support employees in work”.6

Thriving at Work: The Stevenson Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers – published in November 2017,7 – set out a number of recommendations for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in recognition of the regulator’s “important role in encouraging employers to effectively implement the mental-health core and enhanced standards”. These included revision of HSE guidance to raise employer awareness of their duty to assess and manage work-related mental ill health, and an increase in focus on workplace mental health during inspections.

Asked if it is acting on these recommendations, the regulator replied: “The HSE has recently revised its web guidance and reviews this content regularly. This has included providing a workbook to help employers work through the Management Standards approach to tackling work-related stress. We are working with employers to trial the Management Standards approach to ensure it remains fit for purpose.”

It added that while it has not increased its focus on mental health during inspections, it would “never preclude the use of enforcement action where there has been a failure to carry out any regulatory duty, where the action is warranted and there is sufficient evidence to do so”.

Mike Robinson believes that all of this activity around mental health in the workplace is causing a sea change in how it is perceived and addressed. He says: “The focus on mental health is now ten times greater than what it was even three years ago. Something like our ‘Start the Conversation’ course is pretty unique – it immerses the whole organisation in talking about it. And there has also been a change in the mindset of company leadership: when I talk to CEOs now, we invariably discuss employee mental health. I really do believe a corner has been turned.”

And it really does seem that more and more people – employers, colleagues and others with the power and/or resources to effect change and ensure we all enjoy good mental health – are saying, to borrow another of Dr Frasier Crane’s catchphrases, “I’m listening”.

References

    1)    http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health.htm

    2)    www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh1617.pdf

    3)    https://www.britsafe.org/training-and-learning/find-the-right-course-for-you/mental-health-training-programmes/

    4)    https://mhfaengland.org

    5)    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices

    6)    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices

    7)    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thriving-at-work-a-review-of-mental-health-and-employers (includes a link to the Government’s response)

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Have your say in our reader survey 07/03/2018

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Mind how you go 02/03/2018

There are some careers you simply should not consider if you are a bit of a day-dreamer: air-traffic controller, interpreter at the UN Security Council, public-transport driver, heavy-machinery operator. Even a momentary lapse in concentration while fulfilling these demanding roles can result in disaster. Tina Weadick explains how complete awareness and total focus – in other words, mindfulness – can be of benefit to both employee and employer

The origins of mindfulness lie in religious meditation (Buddhism, to be specific) but the practice has now been embraced by a wider secular audience of people looking for ways to reduce the level of stress in their busy lives. Given that stress is, by far, the biggest cause of working days lost each year due to worker ill-health, it was only a matter of time before the applications of mindfulness for the workplace began to be recognised – and exploited. 

An article in the online Huffington Post in 2013 noted that “the booming popularity of the mindfulness movement has turned it into a lucrative cottage industry [with] business-savvy consultants promising that it will improve work efficiency, reduce absenteeism and enhance the soft skills that are crucial to career success”.1 More recently, a report by the UK government’s Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG) concluded that there is “a proliferation of mindfulness programmes” available, evidence of the usefulness of which, “while promising, remains patchy”.2

But that same government report also clearly acknowledged that mindfulness is “an important innovation in mental health, which warrants serious attention from politicians, policy-makers, public services, as well as employers and professional bodies”. So, what exactly is mindfulness?

Take your time

As well as developing the aforementioned concentration, focus and awareness, mindfulness is about approaching things with an open, calm, peaceful and non-judgemental mind. It’s about taking time to take stock – something that comes naturally at the beginning of a new year – and having self-compassion. It is ignoring the niggling voice and to-do list in your head and focusing on the now – being aware of what you’re doing, while you’re doing it.

Typically, a workplace mindfulness course runs for four to six weeks, with an hour-and-a-half of training per week, plus 10-15 minutes of personal mindfulness practice every day. Course content revolves around how to pay attention and stay focused, examining the connection between the mind and the body, and addressing compassion for the self and others.

Lest you get the impression that it’s some kind of beansprout-munching, yoghurt-weaving pursuit for new-age types, there is some sound science behind it. Chris Langer, project change manager with CIRAS and co-presenter of an extremely well-attended session on mindfulness at last year’s IOSH conference, explains: “It does have a scientific basis. People can be trained to notice things. You can train in concentration, which can lead to fewer safety incidents, and there is an evidence base for that.”

A 2011 study, led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, was the first to document meditation produced changes in the brain’s grey matter and found that “participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation programme appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress”.3 Two years later, researchers at the University of California examined the effect of mindfulness training on reading comprehension, working memory capacity and reduction in the occurrence of distracting thoughts. They concluded that it led to “reduced mind-wandering among participants prone to distraction” and that “cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences”.4

Langer’s IOSH presentation – with Monica Monti, HSQE manager at transport operator Abellio – highlighted a recent case study of Catalonian transport company, FGC.5 Monotonous driving, repetitive tasks and stress had been identified as key issues among its bus drivers, so a custom-designed MBSR programme (mindfulness-based stress reduction) was provided for 23 drivers to help them develop more resilience, cope with stress, be more ‘present’ in the cab and avoid being on ‘auto-pilot’. After the course, 85 per cent of the participants said their attention was higher or much higher, and the company recorded no operational incidents in the six months following the course.

Nevertheless, as the MAPPG report emphasised, the current evidence base for its effectiveness as a workplace tool remains patchy. A 2013 Chinese study6 on the influence of mindfulness on task and safety performance of nuclear power-plant operators found that while it did have a positive effect on those engaged in highly complex tasks (control-room operators), it had no influence on those involved in low-complexity tasks (field operators), and actually had a negative influence on task performance. These results, the study authors concluded, “suggest that the benefit of being mindful outweighs its cost for complex but not simple tasks”. 

What is fairly clear, however, is that for mindfulness training to have any positive effect in a workplace context, it needs to be integrated with company practices and culture. Chris Langer talks about ‘organisational mindfulness’. He says: “Traditionally, mindfulness is about the individual and concentration, paying attention, etc. To move on to organisational awareness people must understand the assumptions they are making regarding the decisions they take – in other words, collective assumptions. We are looking for as many people as possible to be aware of their environment and safe working conditions. If the majority of people are, then you have organisational mindfulness.”

Nikki Watters, mindfulness trainer and stress management coach with course provider Business Minded,7 agrees: “For it to realise benefits, mindfulness has to become the norm in an organisation, so that people will be more likely continue with their own individual practice after the course, which is very important. To make its presence felt and make it the norm, employers can, for example, have mindfulness champions, host lunchtime meditation sessions or, in the summer, mindful walks. Regular meetings could be rounded off with a short mindfulness practice, and the intranet or noticeboard could be used to disseminate information on mindfulness.”

Passing the buck?

Of course, there is also the argument – often also made in relation to behaviour-based safety approaches – that training people to be more attentive and more resilient to stress shifts the burden of responsibility for dealing with problems in the workplace from the employer to the employee. As the Huffington Post article points out: “Stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments.” 

This is a concern voiced regularly by employee representative groups, particularly the unions. The TUC has criticised resilience interventions such as mindfulness training for treating the distressed worker and not the dysfunctional workplace, while the Prospect union has warned that companies are increasingly looking to fix the worker rather than fix stressful jobs. Speaking in 2016, Prospect’s health and safety specialist, Sarah Page, claimed that “rather than adopting the HSE’s excellent, evidence-based and free [stress] Management Standards, employers are allowing themselves to be seduced by expensive ‘well-being’ products…so they can shift responsibility for stress management to a self-management model”.

Chris Langer understands the reservations about mindfulness encouraging the acceptance of ‘reality as it is’. He says: “This is why you have to extend the concept out to organisational mindfulness, which converges neatly with safety culture. It’s about trying to promote safety and risk awareness at a collective, organisational level. It’s not about pinning blame on individuals or making individuals responsible. And it should be targeted at front-line staff and managers, as well.”

Adds Nikki Watters: “The acceptance thing can be a stumbling block, as it is seen as passive – just put up with it. But I tend to teach people to look at what the opposite of whatever ‘it’ is and, instead of getting down about what is happening in the company and fighting against it, examine why it is happening, what is the company’s rationale for it and, most importantly, what are my options. Making room for reality includes embracing the difficulty itself – you stop fighting it and start dealing with it.”

Conclusion

It is often said that operation is the last link in the chain – before sorting it out, first make sure that the conception, design, construction and supervision/leadership are all solid. It’s the classic top-down approach and while, in health and safety terms, the bottom-up approach also has its proponents, it is clear that mindfulness training – like any tool that focuses on the individual – must be part of a bigger cultural picture. Better concentration, greater focus, sharper observation, more compassion for yourself and others – these are things everyone can benefit from. In the workplace, they facilitate choice, rather than automatic reaction, and that will certainly have an effect on the number of unsafe incidents due to human error. Ultimately, it makes sense – for individuals and organisations – to try to go from ‘mind full’ to ‘mindful’.

References

  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-purser/beyond-mcmindfulness_b_3519289.html
  2. Mindful Nation UK, Report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, October 2015 – http://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org.uk/images/reports/Mindfulness-APPG-Report_Mindful-Nation-UK_Oct2015.pdf
  3. http://www.massgeneral.org/News/pressrelease.aspx?id=1329
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23538911
  5. See the slides from Chris’s presentation here: http://www.ioshconference.com/__media/Speaker-presentations/Monica-Monti-and-Chris-Langer.pdf
  6. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886913001566
  7. www.business-minded.co.uk
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Ahead of the rest 24/01/2018

Georgina Bisby investigates the challenges and opportunities around smart technology in above-the-neck PPE

The current trend towards smart personal protective equipment (PPE), which incorporates advanced technologies including Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors into wearable protective equipment, is expected to continue and accelerate in 2018, according to the report Global Smart PPE Market 2017-2021 published by Technavio.

As the rise of Industry 4.0 gathers pace, PPE is an obvious opportunity for introducing smart technology into the workplace and large scale investment and product development is seeing technologies move quickly from trial phases onto the market. Simon Field, a technical specialist at science-based technology company 3M, who, according to the Technavio report, is one of the key players in the smart PPE space along with Honeywell, DAQRI and General Electric, says: “Going forward, I think smart and connected personal protective equipment (PPE) will become much more commonplace across a wide range of industries. Technology is permeating our personal and work lives like never before, and the potential benefits for workplace safety are significant. Innovations in above-the-neck PPE have the potential to revolutionise the field of workplace safety, helping workers to avoid hazards more effectively and simply than ever before.”

Field gives the example of 3M’s Organic Gas and Vapour End of Service Life Indicator Filters as a case where smart technology is improving worker safety. The filters use End of Service Life Indicator (ESLI) technology to give users a clear visual warning when they need to change their filters. This technology, which is said to be the first of its kind, can help to combat the problem of some respiratory protective equipment (RPE) users only changing their filters once they detect contaminant odour, taste or contamination inside the respirator, meaning the substance has already broken through.

Cleo Cabuz, vice president of engineering and chief technology officer for Honeywell Industrial Safety, believes that above-the-neck PPE is one of the areas where some of the most exciting technology developments are set to take place in terms of smart PPE: “In the era of Industry 4.0, RFID and Bluetooth-enabled PPE can already connect to smartphones to become edge devices able to collect and transmit data. In future, by using retrofitted wireless data transfer technology, like Near Field Communication (NFC), everything from eyewear to hardhats could become connected, while further innovations in wearable sensors could make it possible to monitor any parameter that affects a worker’s health."

In hearing protection, for example, one of the key trends is enhancing communication while preserving hearing in the long term, explains Cabuz: “Increasingly, devices such as earmuffs are becoming communication hubs that connect to smartphones via Bluetooth, enabling workers to answer phone calls, hear alarms or receive vital instructions without putting their hearing at risk. Additionally, the integration of miniaturised microphones to register residual noise, combined with software and cloud technology, is enabling a new, app-based approach to hearing conservation, with the ability to monitor sound exposure in real time and fight noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).” 

According to Cabuz, hardhats also have great potential to be transformed into smart devices which could help the safety industry move towards an information-driven approach to workplace risk reduction: “Hardhats embedded with miniaturised biometric sensors could gauge and monitor in real time, through sweat and pulse, vital parameters such as heart rate, body temperature, and stress, which can be early signs of an imminent threat."

There are already examples of smart technology being integrated into headwear on the market. For example the Australian company Smart Cap Technology is helping companies to manage worker fatigue with its LifeBand device which can be fitted to headwear including safety helmets. Smart Cap’s early warning alarms, combined with real-time monitoring enables proactive intervention to better manage fatigue risk which could be particularly useful for preventing drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. 

Augmented Reality as a Health & Safety management tool

Not only is smart PPE a way of keeping workers healthier and safer but it also provides a vehicle for iintroducing technology such as Augmented Reality (AR) which offers numerous opportunities and benefitsin terms of managing occupational health & safety. In 2017 DAQRI ran a trial of smart helmets which incorporated professional industrial grade wearable technology to provide users with instant and relevant information, overlaid on their line of sight. The DAQRI Smart Helmet was a developer edition explains Jason Haggar, vice president, global partner & developer programs at DAQRI. “We learned a lot from our customers of the DAQRI Smart Helmet, one learning being that they wanted lighter weight glasses, and so we moved the Computing and Battery Pack out of the helmet (and the corresponding weight off the user’s head) and into a belt-worn “Compute Pack”.  In the words of one of our early adopter customers, 'I don’t want to wear an entire computer on my head.'”  

Subsequently in November 2017, DAQRI launched the DAQRI Smart Glasses, a wearable AR solution that is also certified to eye and face protection safety certifications: ANSI Z87.1, EN166 1S and EN167.

It’s early days for AR as an HSE management tool – DAQRI reports most customers are starting with training use cases, but many companies are also looking at using AR to visualise dangerous areas (ex: tagging a hot pipe or electrical danger) something which DAQRI has recently successfully trialled with Siemens. Key customer feedback is that as well as keeping workers healthier and safer, being able to get work instructions, training, or remote expert help via Augmented Reality is saving employers time and money.

DAQRI is currently evaluating PPE and head protection options that work with the DAQRI Smart Glasses, and say they will have some future news on this topic: “We understand that many customers require a combination of PPE and a wearable AR solution,” says Haggar.

There are plenty of other names to watch in the Smart PPE space. For example General Electric Oil and Gas has developed a Smart Helmet which allows the wearer to connect with remote engineers for faster troubleshooting through a shared collaboration space featuring live feed and direct audio contact with the site.

Meanwhile New York based Human Condition Safety (HCS) is creating a suite of tools that helps workers and their managers prevent injuries before they happen. Incorporating wearable devices, artificial intelligence, building information modelling and cloud computing, the product suite is being designed for the industries that hold the highest risk for workers, including manufacturing, energy, warehousing and distribution, and construction.

Meeting the needs of a changing workforce

Honeywell’s Cabuz thinks the rise of smart PPE is good news for a workforce with a changing demographic: “This connected approach could encourage the uptake and correct use of PPE among millennials, who are expected to make up 50 per cent of the global working population by 2020. By equipping itself with the kind of technology that meets the expectations of this generation of digital-natives, the safety industry will put itself in the best position to protect their health in the long term. 

“At the other end of the spectrum, smart PPE that can address the needs of the ageing workforce will be of increasing importance. Statistics show that occupational fatalities are more likely to occur among older workers with many of these fatalities due to lack of appropriate preventative measures and effective rescue procedures."

What about the risks?

The advantages of smart PPE are clear but with questions remaining about the impact of wireless technology on human health are people going to be comfortable with all of this technology being concentrated above the neck?

PPE specialist Intellinium does’t think so which is why they have developed what is said to be the first Smart Safety Shoe. Using “health by design” and “health by default” principles similar to “Privacy By Design” and “Privacy By Default”, Intellium spent six months researching the best location for its smart hub and concluded that the foot was a good candidate since it is far from the head, breast and genital area. This hub located in a smart connected safety shoe is designed to connect to other wearables using a lower emitting protocol such as BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). In addition, Intellium located its technology on top of the upper shoe to give more distance between the body and the electronics rather than using a smart sole which the company said could place the telecom antennae too close to the body. 

How much of a concern the location of smart technology is will depend on the individual technology and how long a worker is wearing it for but understandably workers expect anything they are wearing above the neck to be both comfortable and safe so these considerations are likely to strongly influence product design. As DAQRI found, people don’t want to wear a whole computer on their head so perhaps the smart money when it comes to future developments is on PPE with smart functionality but with the bulk of the electronics based elsewhere.  

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Producers of The Walking Dead hit with maximum fine 08/01/2018

The production company behind hit TV show The Walking Dead has been handed the maximum possible fine by the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following the death of a stunt man last year.

The production company behind hit TV show The Walking Dead has been handed the maximum possible fine by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following the death of a stunt man last year. 

John Bernecker fell 25 feet onto concrete while rehearsing a fight for the show. The 33-year-old was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Centre where he spent time on a ventilator before passing away. 

It was announced on the 5th of January 2017 that OSHA had fined production company Stalwart Films the maximum amount permitted, $12,675 (£9,340), for ‘failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards’.

OSHA released a statement saying: ‘This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the entertainment industry. The entire industry needs to commit to safety practices for actors and stunt people involved in this type of work.’

However Stalwart Films expressed its disappointment to Entertainment Weekly, claiming that Bernecker's death was a 'tragic and terrible accident.' and that it 'takes the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with – and frequently exceed – industry safety standards. We disagree with the issuance of this citation and are considering our response.’

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Hackitt's Grenfell review urges 'universal shift in culture' 18/12/2017

An interim review into the Grenfell Tower fire has found that the current regulatory system is "not fit for purpose" and opens the door to "shortcuts" that put lives at risk.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety, which was published on Monday 18th December, urged "a universal shift in culture" and said: "Change needs to start now."

The review warned that, although large-scale fires are rare and that many people involved at all stages of building construction and management "do the right thing and recognise their responsibilities", the system must be overhauled to prevent abuses that could lead to a repeat of the tragic fire in June, which cost 71 lives.

Dame Judith, an engineer and former chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), wrote: "From the very earliest stages of the process, the people we have spoken to have indicated that the current regulatory system falls short of what is required to be effective. While some have argued for specific short-term measures, most have recognised that the current overall system is not working effectively and needs to be overhauled. 

"As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so."

She said she hoped to see changes that mirrored those in the oil and gas industry following 1988's Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, which led to 167 deaths as the result of an explosion and subsequent fires.

The final report is expected in the spring, but Dame Judith used the interim review to demand a change to "the culture away from one of doing the minimum required for compliance, to one of taking ownership and responsibility for delivering a safe system throughout the life cycle of a building".

She said she had seen during her time with the HSE that a good regulatory framework, coupled with a change in attitude, had brought substantial change to the construction industry and that it had moved on from "simply accepting that construction is a dangerous sector to work in".

Dame Judith, currently chair of manufacturing trade body EEF, added: "The mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings to others must stop. Everyone’s focus must be on doing the right things because it is their responsibility as part of a system which provides buildings that are safe and sustainable for those who will live in and use them for many decades."

The next phase of the review will consider practical recommendations, such as retro-fitting sprinklers to all high-rise buildings, and the "direction for change" across six broad areas: Regulation and guidance; roles and responsibilities; competence; process, compliance and enforcement; residents’ voice and raising concerns; and quality assurance and products.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the global body for health and safety professionals, said it was pleased to see its recommendations on the adequacy and clarity of relevant regulation and on competence requirements included in the interim review.

Shelley Frost, director of strategic development at IOSH, said: “In the consultation, we called for the consideration of mandatory accreditation of fire risk assessors for all high-rises, to ensure standards are as high as they can be.

“Part of this is having the right people making the right decisions – well-trained, competent personnel. With fire safety being a complex issue, systems should be clear, simple to understand and proportionate.

“Without adequate training, will someone know the importance of checking areas out of plain sight, such as above ceilings or in ducts? Will someone know to check if fire doors have been removed? Will someone know to check if renovation work has unintentionally compromised compartmentalisation? 

“These are all key questions. It is vital that no stones are left unturned.”

Read the full report here.

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A year at the helm 24/11/2017

HSM caught up with Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) chief executive Bev Messinger, on day two of the 2017 IOSH Conference, to reflect on her first year in the post and to discuss the organisation's plans for 2018

How has this year's IOSH conference gone?

Bringing the conference to Birmingham (before it was in London), moving the dates from June to November (20-21st November, ICC Birmingham) and bringing it in-house for the first time for a long time has been quite complex. But the exhibition stands look amazing and I'm delighted with the content. On day one we had really excellent speakers including Stephen Martin (director-general of the IOD) who are our headline sponsor and with whom we're doing a lot of collaborative work with. That's all about putting occupational health and safety at the heart of business, and being really business- and productivity- focused, as opposed to just being technical experts.

We had Matthew Taylor (chief executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)) talking about the gig economy and what the implications are for occupational safety and health.

We also launched our new qualification – the NCFE IOSH Level 3 Certificate in Safety and Health for Business – which we're really excited about. It's a really big deal for the organisation to have its own qualification for the first time.

Today we had a keynote speech from Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who was just awesome in terms of being motivational and talking about resilience, planning and success. So there's been a really good buzz about the whole conference so far.

What's your first 12 months in the post of IOSH chief executive been like?

It's been amazing. I joined the organisation at a really important time when they were planning their five-year strategy WORK 2022 so I was able to put a bit of my own stamp on that and how I wanted to bring that to life. 

We've got three strands to our strategy: enhance the profession, collaborate with like-minded bodies, and influence globally. We launched it with our chair and president in Qatar in April. That went really well and we streamed it for the first time ever on Facebook and got nearly 30,000 views.

In May and June we then launched an internal transformation programme 'Transforming Together' and that's about making the organisation more modern and agile so we can support the membership better. 

We've also launched a new structure for the organisation that is more aligned to delivering the strategy and the transformation. I have two new directors starting soon too.

Kris De Meester (chairman of Health and Safety Working Group Business Europe) was talking in one of the sessions yesterday about how important it is to enjoy what you do. It made me reflect on the fact that I haven't been this happy in a job for a long, long time. 

What health and safety topics are you most passionate about?

I've worked in human resources (HR) and managed health and safety for many years. I'm passionate about the profession really stepping up to the plate and becoming strategic business leaders in the same way I believe HR has. Ten years ago we didn't have a voice at board level and we weren't taken seriously as a profession. I think we can learn from what HR has done to get at those top tables.

The other thing for me is health and wellbeing in its broadest sense. We need to understand that people bring their whole selves to work they don't just bring their technical capabilities. They bring their problems and they bring their family issues. You need to look after the whole person and then they'll be happier, they'll be more productive and you'll retain them. 

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

We've done a lot of work this year on enhancing the profession, which is culminating in the launch of the qualification. The other two strands of the strategy we need to do more work on. We're looking at a global operating model for IOSH -– how do we work more effectively in the 130 countries that we operate in and serve the membership better? How do we use our research, development and capability across the world to make a difference?  

The next phase of our 'No Time To Lose' campaign on occupational cancer is really important to us – it will focus on the most significant workplace carcinogen, asbestos – and we will also continue to develop those collaborations with people we want to work with.   

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HSE construction inspection campaign 24/11/2017

The HSM Campaigns Hub provides you with information on the latest health & safety initiatives and guidance on how you can get involved. This issue we examine the Health & Safety Executive's Construction Inspection Campaign.

At the beginning of 2017, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) carried out more than 2000 inspections of construction projects across the UK. As a result of the first phase of the initiative, action was taken to address issues in almost half of its visits.

In the autumn, the HSE commenced the second phase of the campaign and the targeted inspection initiative has resulted in numerous visits to more project sites.

The HSE says 43 workers were fatally injured in 2015/16, and an estimated 10 times that number died from construction related ill-health, with a further 65,000 self-reported non-fatal injuries.

HSE is now asking every construction contractor, client and designer to ensure they are not adding to this unacceptable toll of harm by failing to manage well-known risks.

In addition to things such as falls from height, the campaign will focus on control of harmful dusts including respirable silica from concrete, brick and stone, asbestos and wood dust, as well as work at height, structural safety, materials handling, good order and welfare provision.

HSE points to the mis-conception that health issues cannot be controlled in construction. It says harmful dust, whether silica or wood, is a serious issue and can be managed effectively with the right design, equipment and training. Health effects may not be immediate, but the ultimate impact on workers and their families can be devastating.

HSE’s chief inspector of construction and director of construction division, Peter Baker, commented: “In phase 1 of this campaign HSE’s inspectors found lots of good examples of small sites working safely and protecting workers health from exposure to harmful dusts, proving it can be done. My message to smaller businesses is don’t wait for an accident or a visit from an HSE inspector – learn from the success of others and act now.

“Nearly half of construction fatal accidents and injuries reported to HSE involved refurbishment work.

“Some small refurbishment sites continue to cut corners and not properly protect their workers resulting in an unacceptable number of deaths and injuries each year.”

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IOSH Conference 2017: Populism, Brexit & H&S in a changing world 22/11/2017

'A shift towards an in-ward looking, anti-regulation and anti globalisation world will affect standards, business and OSH in every workplace. The challenge will be to ascertain the impact on working practices and regulatory systems, and how the values underpinning OSH may be reflected in any future legislation.'

This statement was the focus of an interactive panel debate held at this year's IOSH conference, which took place on 20-21 November 2017 at the ICC in Birmingham. Panel members stated their fears and hopes for the future, before opening up the discussion to delegates.

Lawrence Waterman OBE, founding partner of Park Health and Safety Partnership, chaired the debate and began by defining populism as "a tide of argument that ordinary people are being ignored by a privileged elite" which has "often merged with various types of racism".

On Brexit he added: "We've made the decision to come out of Europe - but how we do it is an argument that is highly polarised."

He asked the rest of the panel: "Will Brexit constitute a risk to our health and safety standards or will it provide an opportunity to improve standards and engage with the rest of the world?"

Bridget Leathley, consultant, trainer and writer at The Safer Choice, was the first to give her opinion. "Populism has driven us into Brexit but we must make sure that populism doesn't decide Brexit," she said.

"If we let populism rule, when we come to make our own decisions on regulations or standards etc. I am worried that we may respond to accidents with what the newspapers want us to do and make rash decisions."

Terry Woolmer, head of health and safety policy at EEF - the manufacturer's organisation, however believes that Brexit should not concern us. "Immigration and trade are the Government's main concerns - health and safety is not on their 'to do' list."

He added that "there is no reason to believe the Government won't retain worker protection standards and product safety requirements".

Doug Florence, senior consultant at SafeMech, argued that Brexit provides an immediate threat to product safety regulations. "These regulations fall apart when we leave the EU – they will need major restructuring to work outside the EU," he said, before adding that he was particularly concerned about toys, consumer products and PPE.

He concluded: "Populism is anti-regulation and anti-expert. Brexit will result in the pressure to reduce standards and regulatory controls."

Bill Gunnyeon, chair of board of trustees at IOSH, thinks that the biggest risk we face as an industry is the downturn of the economy post-Brexit.

"With businesses under financial pressure there could be less focus on health and safety standards, and health and safety resources could be at risk. This has implications for health and safety professionals," he commented.

But Brexit also provides health and safety professionals with an opportunity to show the contribution that good health and safety can make to a business's performance, Gunnyeon added. For example, the challenges surrounding health and safety at work are a global issue and global businesses are looking for professional advice on how best to tackle them.

However in order to grasp these opportunities, he believes that health and safety professionals need to develop their communication skills so that they can communicate knowledge that people can really engage with and not just see as elitist.  

Lawrence Waterman opened the floor up to questions from delegates before providing some food for thought to take away from the discussion.

"Do we as health and safety professionals need to be more activist than we have been? Have we relied too much on Europe to make the decisions?," he asked.

"If we are taking back control we need to be more alert to the opportunities in the new world and ensure the risks don't trump those."

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