A robust programme of occupational health and safety at work enables employees to do their jobs without impediment. When healthy working conditions are achieved, ill-effects can be prevented, and a business is able to operate more efficiently.
Occupational hazards are not restricted to offshore or industrial workers: office, hospital and local authority employees are also exposed to hazards, particularly with the increasing use of chemicals and the increasing pace of work in these sectors.
Workers in the UK still suffer the consequences of exposure to the “classic” industrial hazards like silica, asbestos, noise and lead. The incidence of occupational disease directly due to work is frequently underestimated.
Many people know their job is potentially dangerous but may not realise the full extent of the danger or the possibilities for prevention.
Knowing the risks of certain jobs offers considerable scope for prevention. Work-related conditions should certainly not be regarded as an inevitable consequence of earning a living.
Usually a work-related injury can be linked to a particular event and easily identified. However, occupational disease is more difficult to identify. There may be a long delay between exposure to a harmful agent and the effect it causes, for example, occupational cancers.
Successful prevention depends on identifying hazards and then eliminating or controlling their causes.
There is increased legislation applicable to the workplace today. As well as the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations, there are also requirements for:
o Written risk assessments
o Detailed record keeping of control measures
o Health surveillance of employees
o Instruction, training and information for employees exposed to, or handling, hazardous substances.
In addition to the duty of care owed to the employee, this protection extends beyond the company to the general public.
Your company’s doctor or nurse can keep you up to date with changes in exposure limits and legislative developments.
Health problems can be costly to businesses. Absence from work, “presentee-ism” (being at work but not doing anything), reduced morale and inefficiency can all be a drain on financial and human resources. Thus it is in the interests of all businesses to maintain a healthy workforce.
The main advantages of obtaining occupational health advice are:
o Meeting your legal obligation to look after the health of the workforce.
o Reducing potential liabilities through the early detection of health hazards, and the introduction of preventive measures.
o Reduced staff turnover and increased efficiency as a result of effective processes for the selection, placement, maintenance and rehabilitation of employees.
o The introduction of health promotion and education campaigns targeting the general long-term health improvement of staff
o By demonstrating concern for the health of the workforce, morale and motivation of staff can be improved. Typically, this also improves the calibre of job applicants.
Health problems are often less obvious than safety hazards but they are just as serious.
You are likely to need specialist advice to assess your workplace, and identify what can be done to assist you in protecting your most valuable asset – your people.
From a business perspective, spending money on the health of your workforce can be regarded truly as profit through people.
Dr William Freeland is medical director for supply chain and medical staffing at Abermed