From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
Although the refugee numbers are huge -- two million Syrians are now in Turkey and much smaller Lebanon and Jordan are hosting even more between them -- those who manage to get out of the country are in the minority. Most who have fled the fighting are not refugees but internally displaced, more than a quarter of the population, about six and a half million people.
It is difficult to think of anything more inimical to safety and health than conflict on a scale that generates this volume of people movement, but the impact of individual stories like Alan's is to remind us that this is about real people: men, women and children, not just statistics.
The mass migration of so many people in a relatively short time has put a huge strain on them, and on the countries within refugees' reach. It is said that when you're in a crisis you learn who your true friends are, and anyone seeking to make political capital out of this human tragedy isn't a friend to anyone.
But what has this to do with occupational safety and health? There are two answers, and only the first is the obvious humanitarian one.
There is something intrinsically supportive of life and the quality of life in seeking to prevent accidents and ill health. That is why many practitioners can be found in their private lives working in the community, volunteering (even if it is only litter picking) and fundraising. There is often a coherence between what people do professionally and how they live their lives.
But there is a much more specific link. Whether the aid workers are locally employed or expatriates -- and there is a much lower proportion of the latter than ever, whether they are working in long-term development projects or engaged in emergency support on the front line providing medical care in Gaza or intervening in the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, their work activities are underpinned by risk assessments.
Looking after health and safety, like charity, begins at home and ends with the whole world. It isn't professional or effective if the people undertaking aid work are harmed because the work isn't properly planned and managed. So organisations such as Oxfam, the Red Cross, Cafod, Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians, pool knowledge on risks and how to manage them through the humanitarian network CHS Alliance.
Modern crises need careful interventions to help people. This does not involve well-meaning collections of teddy bears to be driven across Europe but the sort of aid that leads to peace where there was war, crops where there was famine, schools where there were disrupted children's lives.
Even in extremis health and safety has a contribution to make, and we should all feel some humility at the scale of the current challenge and proud at the efforts. Those efforts represent our counter to terrorism and deliberate violence.
With a possible change in our relationship with Europe in the offing, would leaving the bloc make the UK safety and health landscape look any different and would we remain as influential among the remaining members?Our robust Health and Safety at Work Act has had a profound impact on EU law. The act’s “so far as reasonably practicable” qualifying phrase was included in the 1989 Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work (not without dissent), which became a strong foundation of EU safety and health regulation.
Other months may be less busy, but the spurs that propel such topics into the public realm guarantee a continued supply.One of these is the interface between technological innovation and the vagaries of human nature; people acquire new devices and find improbable ways to use them. Hence the calls for tighter restrictions on domestic use of drones and, more curious still, laser pointers. (I can’t have been the only one whose belief in the goodness of humanity suffered a knock at the news there were 1,440 reports by pilots in 2014 of people shining lasers into plane cockpits.)
Businesses aren’t moral entities. They may be staffed by people who do the right thing more often than not, but that’s because they reflect the make-up of the general population.Companies exist to turn a profit and their executive directors in particular are appointed with the primary duty to generate shareholder value.
But the consultation and briefing events the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hosted in January and February suggest the debate has moved on at last. Invited audiences around the UK heard about the new strategy, Helping Great Britain work well, and those at the London meeting, opened by Justin Tomlinson, the minister responsible for safety and health, could be forgiven for wondering where all the political animus against regulation had gone.
OSH as a discipline and practice has been on a rollercoaster of a journey over the past years – polarisation of opinion in the press fed a public perception which was often less than complimentary. The social, cultural and technological legitimacy of the profession has been undermined at times and the uninformed still see safety and health management as all about compliance.
Examples of the ways workers and the public were once blithely exposed to the most noxious substances, whether through innocence or expedience, resonate particularly strongly with us.We shudder to think of the young women at the Radium Dial Company in Canada in the 1920s encouraged by supervisors to lick their brushes to a point to achieve a finer line applying radioactive paint to wristwatch faces. Hundreds died of radiation poisoning, many after suffering disfiguring necrosis of the jaw.