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Causality is easier to evidence where there is physical activity with a demonstrable consequence; the injury or fatality caused by an accident can be seen and investigated. Yet a series of studies and surveys are shedding light on what has become one of the under-reported occupational health issues of our time: sedentariness.
In this age of email and the internet, with more of us working from home or in office environments, it is clear a growing proportion of us are sitting down and physically inactive for long periods of the day at work.
A US studypublished five years ago, still relevant today, revealed a significant portion of the national weight gain could be explained by a decline in physical activity during the working day.
Jobs that required moderate physical activity, which accounted for around half of the labour market in 1960, had fallen to just 20% by 2011, researchers found. A 2014 survey of UK employees across education, government administration, retail, telecommunications and the service industry discovered that more than half of the time spent sitting on a work day was accumulated at work. There were significant associations between sitting time and higher body mass index. And in recent weeks, The Lancet published research on more than one million adults that found sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60%.
With a commendable focus on the solution, the international research team behind this latest study concluded that an hour or more of physical activity a day could counteract prolonged sitting incurred at work, home or while commuting. Lead researcher Professor Ulf Ekelund, of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and the University of Cambridge, said: "There has been a lot of concern about the health risks associated with today's more sedentary lifestyles.
"Our message is a positive one: it is possible to reduce -- or even eliminate -- these risks if we are active enough, even without having to take up sports or go to the gym." Prof Ekelund went on to say: "For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time. "For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it's getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work.
"An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk." Employers and employees are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of physical activity and are providing simple opportunities in the workplace that can make a big difference. Some have employed flexible working policies that allow people to exercise before work or during their lunch breaks, while others have encouraged staff to walk or cycle to work, or have arranged discounts at leisure centres and health clubs. Encouraging employees to plan and take part in health-related activities at work brings people together socially and helps builds positive relationships with work colleagues.
At the same time, we are increasingly using our mobile phones or watches to track our daily exercise, promoting a desire to move more. This combined with a positive employer programme can be a powerful enabler for the workforce.
Looking forward to the expectations of the workforce in the future, as I mentioned in a previous column, employees will have a greater expectation of flexible working and improved facilities to enable them to achieve not only a better work-life balance but a better work-health balance.
The benefits are cost savings arising from improved sickness absence and employee turnover and fewer accidents and injuries. However, employers are increasingly recognising that valuing their employees through such support programmes has also consistently resulted in a happier, more motivated and higher performing workforce.
As IOSH positions itself for its next strategic period, it is timely to consider some of the big trends that may well shape the future of the world of work and our profession. The world population is growing and ageing, but there are demographic imbalances. In the industrial countries, populations are either stagnating or declining, but in developing countries, they are booming. In industrial countries, immigration is likely to increase, not just to fill the skills shortages caused by population decline, but as a result of armed conflicts and environmental problems.
It’s certainly not because it is a rarefied classification. There was a time when profession was reserved for more obviously learned occupations such as teaching and law. But in the past 50 years it has been extended to encompass those in business support functions including human resources and information technology, whose roles are certainly no more significant than those controlling occupational risk.
Many of the drivers and some of the teams are lobbying for a new device developed by Mercedes, named the “halo”, to be fitted over the front of car cockpits. The halo is designed to shield drivers from pieces of flying debris, but opinions are divided; Hamilton was quoted as saying it should be optional and that he prefers to take the risk.There is a contrast between apparent personal freedoms being curtailed “because of health and safety” and a society in which people generally feel so safe that they take it for granted and want redress when harm arises.
There is no doubt that regulation has its place in stating society’s minimum expectations and in providing a clear framework against which all organisations can measure themselves. There must also be a punitive system to address dutyholders who fall short of these standards. However, with less prescriptive regulation and a drive – in the UK at least – to reduce the regulatory burden on business, we should all do more to define good OSH performance and promote it around the world.
How much of our worker protection legislation will be reset depends on a combination of economic and political necessity.There is no doubting the union’s influence on our safety and health law. The think tank Open Europe calculated that two-thirds of OSH-related regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in the EU.But there are good reasons not to unpick our framework, however it was acquired and however “glorious” the opportunity for change.
They revealed there was no decline in domestic spending in the British economy after the vote to leave the European Union in June. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has now rowed back slightly on its pessimism about the initial impact of the Brexit decision, upgrading its UK growth forecast to 1.8% for 2016. Share prices are buoyant and the pound’s post-referendum slide against the dollar has stopped. So far, so good; those who predicted an immediate economic tumble after the referendum have been wrongfooted.