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Occupational Health to take centre stage

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With over 13,000 UK citizens dying every month from a work related health issue, the industry is crying out for a focus on this overlooked area of health & safety.

Talking specifically of occupational health within the construction industry, Chris Keen of the Health & Safety Laboratory, stated

“Serious, often irreversible, long latency disease ought to be a very high priority for the construction industry, including H&S

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professionals attached to the industry. The single biggest cause of this kind of disease in construction is ‘dust’. This includes respirable crystalline silica, wood dust, plus a variety of other components.”

“Successfully tackling these issues will require a cultural shift in the industry, and associated supply chains. At the top of the supply chain, architects etc. should consider occupational health risks when designing projects. At the other end of the supply chain, workers and supervisors have to recognise the importance of controlling exposures to ‘dust’, etc. Tool manufacturers and suppliers have the potential to play a key role in moving the industry forward by building in exposure controls as standard on power tools, especially those known to generate high dust exposures such as circular saws and sanders.”

Keen adds: “The industry has proved that it can make significant health and safety improvements as the huge decline in fall from height related fatalities proves that. And the wide recognition of asbestos risk demonstrates that the industry understands at least some of the issues around long latency disease. We don’t generally need to devise new technical solutions to exposure control, just ensure that recognised solutions are properly, and sustainably, implemented.”

With occupational health high on the agenda for many industries, not only construction, the British Occupational Hygiene Society 2014-IFSEC-01178(BOHS) has announced that it will once again host the Occupational Health theatre at Safety & Health Expo.

Several sessions that specifically explore occupational health include a workshop by Mike Slater, director of Diamond Environment Ltd, who will discuss a collaborative approach to tackling workplace lung disease, while Steve Perkins, Chief Executive of the BOHS will discuss the need for workplace health risk prevention rather than simply focusing on the cure.  On Wednesday, 17 June at 1pm, IOSH will also present a session that specifically focuses on occupational cancer. Asbestos sufferers Keith Tonks and Linda Lakin will share their stories, highlighting how even very low levels of asbestos exposure, inhaling as little as three or four fibres, could cause mesothelioma. These real-life stories bring to the fore why occupational health issues need to be taken much more seriously by businesses.

To coincide with Health and Safety Week, a Health Symposium will also be taking place at Safety & Health Expo, ExCeL London on Thursday, 18 June. The half-day event will start with a panel debate on occupational health chaired by Steve Perkins, chief executive of the BOHS.

The second session will look at the business case for occupational health. A successful case study from Thames Water will follow a presentation on the return on investment that companies can get by looking after employee health.

The final session will be a series of educational workshops. Experts in different issues in occupational health, including respiration, legionella, stress, noise and wellbeing, will be going around each table to discuss the various pitfalls and opportunities that health and safety professionals can face.

It has also been announced that mental health will be a key focus of Safety & Health Expo 2016.

One in four people experience a mental health problem each year, and in 2013, mental health conditions emerged as the single most widespread cause of long-term absence from the workplace in a survey conduct by Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Heather Beach, director of OSH Global at UBM, said: “Given that 1 in 4 people suffer at some point in their lives from a mental

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health related issue, the CBI latest statistics showing that it costs the UK economy over £14bn a year are no real surprise.

“Inside of the commitment we have to address the ‘health’ in health and safety, there will be a content stream on emotional wellbeing at work at Safety and Health Expo in 2016.  We expect it to be relevant to our core health and safety professional audience, HR professionals and business leaders in general..”

Mental ill health can be seen as a taboo, with people often afraid to disclose that they have problem for fear of being treated differently. However, work can actually help people to thrive, by providing a steady routine, salary and identity.

By creating a stream focused on mental health in the workplace at Safety & Health Expo 2016, there will be an opportunity to engage all those people who are able to affect change in the workplace, including health and safety professionals, HR professionals as well as managers and directors.

Interested in expanding your knowledge of occupational health? Register free for Safety & Health Expo at www.safety-health-expo.co.uk/driven

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