IOSH member Dr Karen Michell was appointed as the Secretary for the Scientific Committee on Accident Prevention (SCAP), one of the 37 scientific committees that are part of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), in November 2020.
Founded in 1906, the ICOH is the oldest scientific society in the field of occupational health and currently has a global membership of more than 2,000 professionals across 105 countries. She talks to IOSH magazine about her plans for her term in the post.
What led to your SCAP appointment?
I’ve been a member of ICOH since 2003. When I joined IOSH they said they had been made aware of the secretary position. I am a member of three of the ICOH’s 37 scientific committees and this one is very relevant.
Whether it’s your safety or your occupational health, both have the ability to impact on you having an accident at work. For me, it was a natural progression and an ideal opportunity to bring both the safety and the health aspects of work to the fore in terms of accident prevention.
Dr Su Wang, chair of the SCAP, nominated me to the ICOH’s secretariat. They then verified that I am a member in good standing and a suitable candidate.
What is the focus of SCAP’s work?
SCAP focuses on hard-to-prevent accidents in the workplace. Because the committee understands that both the safety and health elements of the work environment will impact on that, it looks at measures and controls that are available to prevent accidents of any kind in the workplace.
First and foremost the focus is on preventing death and injury but then as a consequence of that, making sure resources aren’t wasted. Accidents are expensive for organisations.
SCAP promotes accident prevention, including all measures taken to save lives, escape from injury, lessen the severity of injury, reduce loss of properties, contain treatment and compensation costs, promote production, and minimise time and morale loss.
Almost everything you look at in the working environment, if it goes wrong, has the potential to cause an accident. Whereas many of the committees would be looking purely from an occupational health aspect, SCAP is one that really bridges safety and health and understands that both need to work together to prevent accidents.
SCAP focuses on proactive risk management. Why is this so critical to preventative strategies?
By understanding what it is that causes an accident and putting controls in place, you are going to prevent those negative outcomes. When you take a reactive approach, you are accepting injury, death and the financial consequences. The focus is making the work environment as safe and healthy as possible to prevent those adverse outcomes. A worker who has an occupational injury could potentially never work again.
Many occupational diseases are insidious in nature. You can be exposed to a workplace hazard on a daily basis and be none the wiser that it is negatively affecting your health. Eventually, you might find you can’t perform a simple task like walk up the stairs, and by then you may have developed an occupational disease and we can’t reverse the pathology. The impetus behind this committee is to prevent those scenarios.
IOSH has a longstanding relationship with the ICOH. What expertise can you bring as a person and as an IOSH representative?
Personally, I’ve been involved with many professional organisations and I really am enthused by the dynamic nature and foresight that IOSH has, what it does for its members, the difference it is making in the OSH sphere and its current drive to influence the focus of occupational health in OSH. What IOSH brings is an expertise in safety, which has not been very strong in ICOH.
There are many similarities between ICOH and IOSH initiatives. ICOH has established working groups and scientific committees whose scope and terms of reference are comparable with those of IOSH. These include the future of decent work, the implementation of the global strategy of occupational health for all (with a special reference to the global ban of asbestos and elimination of asbestos-related diseases), demographic changes and occupational health, and occupational cancer. In addition, IOSH through its policy and position statements influences rehabilitation, return to work and inclusivity in the workplace – all important components of sound occupational health and sustainable work.
For me personally, I have more than 30 years’ experience to bring to the table. I started in occupational health as an occupational health nurse but then moved into safety as I saw the need to marry the two disciplines. Over three decades, I have developed a vast portfolio of knowledge within OSH and as both an IOSH and ICOH member I see this as the ideal opportunity to promote the collaborative approach to OSH management.
What would you like to achieve before stepping down?
Because of the pandemic, the ICOH triennium has been extended to next year so my appointment is until February 2022.
In the short period that we have, we’d very much like to host one collaborative session between IOSH and SCAP which we are working on at the moment.
However, my long-term goal would be to take on the role of SCAP chair and in the next triennium explore the relationship between safety and health professionals in the working environment. There needs to be good collaboration between safety and health professionals because if you don’t have that, efforts to provide safe and healthy work environments is not going to be fully realised.
One of my primary objectives would be to get this solid relationship set up.
What are the key areas you’ll be focusing on during your post?
I’d really like SCAP to look at the potential impacts of Long Covid. It’s going to be a challenge in the workplace. The symptoms workers get are very diverse. You could have musculoskeletal impacts, which makes it physically challenging for people to do their work. You have cognitive impacts such as ‘brain fog’ where the individual may not be physically active at work, but their need to be on the ball with their thinking all the time is negatively impacted. Long Covid is going to impact a worker’s ability to do their work from both a safety and health perspective. Both puts them at increased risk of having an accident at work.
It’s going to be important to look at how workers with Long Covid are being managed to prevent them becoming a victim of an occupational accident.
IOSH magazine will be publishing an article on long Covid shortly.