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From the CEO's Desk: Why we musn’t forget the human stories behind the statistics

14 December 2017

As happens every year, November saw the publication of the UK’s Safety & Health performance for 2016/17.

Although the statistics show that last year there were 137 deaths due to work related accidents, which was a slight reduction on the previous year, it is accepted that over 13,000 deaths occur each year which are linked to workplace exposure; primarily to past exposure to dusts and chemicals. There were also nearly 700,000 non fatal injuries in the workplace, 175,000 of which resulted in absences from work of over 7 days and over 400,000 of these injuries resulted in absences of up to 7 days. The total number of working days lost to work related ill health and accidents was over 31million, with the costs estimated at nearly £15 billion.

Drilling down, 29%of injuries occurred as a result of a slip, trip or fall (on the same level) and 7% of the injuries from a fall from height. Lifting and handling was the second largest source of injury accounting for 22% of the total. Meanwhile workers struck by an object accounted for 10% of the injuries. The figures illustrate what has been a fairly consistent picture over recent years and it is therefore sound that the HSE’s priority plan which has been driven out of the Helping GB Work Well strategy should focus on 3 key areas: Work Related Stress, Occupational Lung Disease and Musculoskeletal Disorders. These three priorities are being systematically targeted though focused resources and specific initiatives. BSIF as the Trade Body for the Safety & Health Industry is especially active in the initiatives covering Lung Disease and Musculoskeletal Disorders which will be covered in more detail in future pages of this magazine.

However as we digest the latest figures from the HSE report we must not forget the human stories that lie behind the statistics.

I would like to illustrate the case of a man I recently met, Jason Anker MBE, who in 1993 aged just 24 became paralysed from the waist down as a result of an accident on a construction site. Jason’s story will be familiar to some readers as Jason has turned his experience into his livelihood and a force for good through the Proud2besafe initiative which engages organisations in encouraging workers to speak up about safety when they feel that something’s not right. Their approach encourages businesses and employees to make an ongoing commitment to safety and offers packages of videos and tool box talks to get the conversation going along with a talk from speakers including Jason. The initiative encourages managers to take the time to stop and listen because as they assert: “A manager who doesn’t listen will be surrounded by employees (workforce) who don’t speak”.

Jason’s accident happened in cold and icy conditions while he was working on what was considered to be a safe site when he was asked to do a quick additional job with no time for a risk assessment. The ladder he was working on fell from under him and Jason was instantly paralysed and spent four months in hospital. Understandably the accident had a devastating impact on every aspect of his life and he quickly became depressed seeking comfort in drink and drugs and experiencing the break down of his marriage. In January 1995 he hit rock bottom and took an overdose, spending three weeks in a coma on life support.

After a long twelve years, Jason finally received some compensation for his accident but the beginning of his recovery comeback really came when he discovered a passion for disabled water skiing which became his great love, along with his children. Jason was then invited by safety professional and training provider Dan Terry to speak at some of his courses and the reception was so positive that in 2009 Jason spoke at 30 events. In 2010 Jason attended an IOSH course and things accelerated from there and ultimately Proud2besafe was born.

Proud2besafe’s work resonates with the BSIF strategy of rebuilding the image of safety and health. Speakers for Proud2besafe also include Matt Hazleton who was the winner of the Rospa Archangel award in 2017 and is now regarded as one of the top 15 influential people in UK safety. Matt lost two brothers and two friends when a steel reinforcement cage collapsed around them at Claxton Engineering in Great Yarmouth in 2011. Proud2bSafe motivated Matt to share his experience to try to encourage business owners and managers to understand the devastating human cost of accidents.

It is both admirable and inspiring that people like Matt and Jason are telling their stories but what is really exciting is that, thanks to the rise in mediums such as social media, people are listening. On that fateful day in 1993 Jason only fell 10 foot to the ground but as we have heard here, the consequences were desolating. Let’s hope that bringing human stories such a Matt and Jason’s to the fore through initiatives such as Proud2besafe will encourage people to “Speak up” when they feel something may not be right, before they become another statistic.

More about Proud2besafe: www.p2bs.org
Full HSE statistics: www.hse.gov.uk/statistics