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Raising the bar for health
23 January 2013
Much has been made of the fact that the Olympic 2012 build project has been the safest in history and of the hope that part of The Games' legagcy could be to raise standards of health and safety in the construction industry. But the project's success also provides a more widespread opportunity to improve standards of occupational health.
Reacting to latest HSE statistics, that suggest workplace accidents have remained relatively static in the last year, many commentators point out that these figures don't take into account the largely unseen burden of harm due to work-related health damage, which causes thousands of early deaths each year.
Workplace health management was prioritiesed in the same way as safety throughout the Olympic build programme through a â€œHealth like safetyâ€ approach and a team of occupational hygienists was available to provide free health support to all workers and contractors. Lawrence Waterman, head of health and safety at the Olympic Development Authority, explains: â€œAs an adviser to the ODA, I was really clear that preventing fatalities and reducing accidents was absolutely key to the success of the programme, but I also know that many more construction workers have their health harmed as a result of exposure to health risks than are damaged in accidents. So to just concentrate on accident prevention and to not have an Occupational Health Programme as well would have been a little bit like operating with only one eye open.â€
Research commissioned by the ODA and undertaken by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), Occupational Hygiene on the Olympic Park and Athletes' Village estimates that the economic benefits of this â€œHealth like safetyâ€ approach is likely to have run into millions of pounds. The research suggests that the occupational hygiene team service saved contractors, employers, the government and individuals millions by: reducing the downtime involved in dealing with health risks by minimising exposure to health risks, and thereby: reducing the costs of sickness absence (saving the project up to £7m over three years) and reducing the future costs of work-related ill-health - potentially as much as £81m for a workforce of this size. (Full story page 6).
As the Olympic Park and Village become immortalised in the nation's history as the venue for our most successful games ever, it would be fitting if it also inspired a legacy in terms of the nation's health. The health of workers who created this setting was enhanced by their work experience rather than harmed by it and if this was to become common in workplaces across Britain that would truly be an Olympic achievement.
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