From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
This year the campaign concentrated on workplace stress and was a reminder (if we needed it) that mental ill-health in the workplace is even more of a "Cinderella" subject than health in general.
According to the charity MIND, one in six people at work in the UK is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. The arguments for addressing physical ill-health: preventing the loss of skills; the desirability of supporting colleagues; a business case; and human solidarity -- apply equally to mental ill-health.
There is one other factor: when someone is injured or physically unwell, it is common to define a threshold of fitness that they must reach before they may continue their rehabilitation at work. For lower back pain and some other musculoskeletal problems, keeping active is a crucial part of minimising pain and shortening the recovery time. With mental ill-health, this continued activity is crucial for many people because the structure of daily work, the social interactions with colleagues, customers and others is essential if they are to recover or at least learn the skills to manage their condition and function effectively.
It is hard to see how staying at home, often alone, with the dubious comforts of daytime television, is conducive to anyone recovering their mental wellbeing.
In some sectors, the problems of mental ill-health are stark. In Australia the campaign Mates in Construction was set up to address the high suicide rate among young men in the industry. There have also been concerns expressed for many years about the pressures on and social isolation of many in the farming sector and their consequences in damaged and even lost lives.
Early safety regulation was inspired by anecdote -- stories and experiences of accidents gave rise to legislation and safer practices. We discovered rather late, to the cost of workers exposed to health risks, that only an analytical approach that evaluated hidden harms and long-term risks would prompt the management of those risks as well.
The same analysis that shows clearly that accidents cause much less harm than workplace health hazards is increasingly revealing that if we focus only on physical health, we are dealing with only half of the impact on our organisations and on our colleagues.
Many workplaces are havens from the stresses and strains of family life, money worries and other issues that can create the context for periods of mental ill-health.
But with more effort, we can make workplaces the best places to sustain people, to provide the support needed for them to stay well or, when ill-health strikes, for them to recover.
The ILO's choice of stress as a focal point is appropriate and timely.
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.
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.
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.
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.