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New health strategy sees HSE return to stress and MSDs after hiatus

The HSE has launched a new Health and Work Strategy intended to improve occupational health standards and reduce sickness absence in UK organisations.

New health strategy sees HSE return to stress and MSDs after hiatus
HSE chair Martin Temple; minister for disabled people, health and work Penny Mordaunt; group head of health and safety, Land Securities Clive Johnson; HSE chief executive Richard Judge

The strategy has three main themes: work-related stress, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and lung disease. Speaking at the strategy launch event in central London yesterday, HSE chair Martin Temple said that stress and MSDs account for 80% of working time lost to sickness in the UK, while lung disease is responsible for around 90% of work-related deaths.

The new initiative marks a renewed focus on work related stress and musculoskeletal issues for the executive, which largely withdrew in 2008 from involvement in health issues it said were as easily influenced by employees’ home lives as by their working conditions.

The strategy will be underpinned by sector plans for 19 industrial areas, based on industry type and risk profile. The sectors include broad industries such as manufacturing, construction and waste and recycling but also more narrowly defined activities including bioengineering, explosives, fairgrounds and theme parks, onshore oil and gas wells and offshore energy.

The plans are still subject to consultation with industry online and at events to be held in early 2017. The drafts identify the top three strategic priorities for each sector for the next three to five years and the actions the HSE proposes to take to improve health in these areas in the sector.

The regulator’s strategy is separate from the safety and health strategy Helping Great Britain Work Well, issued in February, which the HSE said sets goals for all stakeholders, including business and industry bodies to help achieve.

“The big part of HSE’s work in this area to drive improvements will be engaging with businesses and organisations,” said Temple of the health strategy.  “But there will always be an iron first in the velvet glove. HSE wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t bring to book those who callously or thoughtlessly ruin the lives of others by their actions.”

He said it was important the executive had clear measures of success for each sector so it could measure the strategy’s success. “We are working on this,” he said.

Minister for disabled people, health and work, Penny Mordaunt pledged her support for the strategy at the launch. The minister said the HSE “has an absolutely critical part to play” in supporting government initiatives to reduce the number of people on long-term sick leave or falling out of the workforce on to disability benefit.

She said the strategy fits in with her ministry’s own consultative green paper Work, health and disability: improving lives, launched in November, which considers ways to increase the number of people with disabilities and ill-health conditions returning to the workforce.

Mordaunt praised the Health in Construction Leadership Group, whose chair Clive Johnson hosted the launch at Land Securities’ new Nova development in central London.

“Industry leadership is absolutely vital in helping tackle ill health at work and has my full support,” said Mordaunt, “and I’d like to see that replicated across every sector.”



Louis Wustemann is former editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.

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