Bringing health to the fore

29 April 2013

Do you know your health risks at work? The mission of a campaign, promoted by Safety Groups UK and Healthy Working Lives, is to ensure that the answer is 'yes', explains John Cairns and Robert Atkinson

Do you know your health risks at work? The mission of a campaign, promoted by Safety Groups UK and Healthy Working Lives, is to ensure that the answer is 'yes', explains John Cairns and Robert Atkinson

Health risks at work - do you know yours? This is the major question being posed by Scottish Safety Groups facilitated by SCoS (Scottish Chamber of Safety) and supported by SCHWL (Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives), HSE, RoSPA as well as the general Scottish safety community at Health and Safety Scotland.

It's a fair question, as all employers - particularly SME's - are required to be aware of the risks that personnel are exposed to during their work activities and understand the steps needed to address these exposures. Safety is regularly referred to as 'health and safety' but for most organisations the knowledge in this area has extended only into safety. Thus we have developed the silent 'health' in health and safety, and the term as a whole has been used widely to mean you can't do something. As a result, the real focus of health and safety within a business, that being to ensure that the work gets done and the activities and final products are safe and without risk to employees and users alike, is often lost. Health and safety at work should add value to the organisation, after all, the only place to have a cost effective employee, is at work.

Demonstrating the effect of a fall from height or vehicle accident is visual and immediately apparent, but it is more difficult for managers to get messages about protecting health, over to staff when there is no visible effect, at least in the short term.

Things are changing, health is coming to the fore and increasingly organisations are identifying that maintaining a healthy workforce has economic benefit, especially in a time of economic difficulty and where projections point to an ageing workforce being required to work longer before retirement.

So, are you aware of the exposures to chemicals, dusts, poor posture, noise, vibration and stress levels among your workforce? Are you aware of the harm that this causes to their health, sometimes in the short term but more realistically in the medium-to-long term? Are you aware that failure to identify and manage these exposures can have impacts on your organisation in terms of costs through staff illness, early retirement, potential legal costs and loss of skilled and experienced workers? Managing staff health can help you mitigate against these potential losses and it's perfectly realistic to need help and support to identify, manage and educate staff on these risks.

Health Risks At Work Initiative There are plenty of opportunities to address health issues at work and the focus of a current initiative promoted by Safety Groups UK and Healthy Working Lives looks at health conditions caused or made worse by work exposures and activities, and offers businesses free support and tools to address the issues and videos to help get the messages over to employees in a quick and efficient way.

The initiative, called Health Risks at Work began life in Scotland and has become a national campaign communicating in clear language to raise awareness of risks to breathing, skin, muscles, bones and joints, hearing and touch, and wellbeing. The resources of the initiative are available free to all businesses looking for support and SME's in Scotland can access free face-to-face support and hard copies of the materials.

So how does it work? You can log onto and view the introductory video in English, Polish, Chinese, Urdu and Punjabi. This and the other videos (three minutes each) are an ideal way of introducing your staff to the topics and can be used in meetings, training or during tool box talks to introduce a specific topic area. There are then five key chapters on common workrelated health risks and where possible the health and safety jargon has been removed. There is also a chapter on how and where to get help and support locally.

The principle of the tool kits is to encourage employers to help themselves: each chapter asks and answers a series of questions which can be translated into each workplace's work practices and activities. This aims to demystify the process of risk assessment and help businesses decide on what prevention and control measures need to be implemented to reduce work-related ill health in their specific conditions.

A free DVD entitled: "Introducing Health Risks at Work" will be provided to those who attend the presentations on Health Risks at Work in the Safety Dialogue area at Health & Safety Scotland.

Health Risks at Work also covers the main requirements of the health component of the Estates Excellence project which is currently being rolled out across the UK.

Further help and support is available from Healthy Working Lives at topics/health_risks_at_work.htm and from Visit Safety Groups UK on Stand 21.

John Cairns is vice chairman, Safety Groups UK. Robert Atkinson is OHS development manager, Healthy Working Lives