BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, is delighted to note the tackling of ill health as one of six key themes of the new five-year strategy of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to 2020, and the Society has pledged to collaborate fully with the safety watchdog and others to achieve real success in this vital area.
The HSE has confirmed that the six themes, published in advance of the formal launch of a new five-year strategy for Great Britain’s health and safety system, will cover
- Promoting broader ownership of workplace health and safety
- Highlighting and tackling the burden of work-related ill-health
- Supporting small firms
- Enabling productivity through proportionate risk management
- Anticipating and tackling the challenges of new technology and ways of working
- Sharing the benefits or Great Britain’s approach.
The HSE has indicated that discussions around the new five-year strategy will include events across Great Britain, digital forums and social media initiatives under the campaign hashtag #HelpGBWorkWell and BOHS intends to participate extensively in this process.
Britain has achieved a huge reduction in fatal injuries at work in the 40 years since the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 was introduced with 86 per cent fewer fatal injuries to employees in 2014/15 compared to 1974.
However, the extent of Britain’s burden of work-related ill-health remains unacceptably high. In 2014/15:
- 1.2 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness
- Great Britain faced a cost of £14.3 billion due to injuries and new cases of ill-health from current working conditions, and the majority, £9.4 billion of this, is the result of occupational illness.
- 23.3 million days were lost due to work-related ill-health
- 99% of all occupational mortality was attributable to disease – there were 142 fatal workplace accidents in 2014/15 but these fatalities represent just 1% of the total annual occupational death toll of some 13,000
- these 13,000 deaths were, primarily, the result of work-related lung disease and cancer, attributed to past exposure to chemicals and dust at work.
Further examination of the above statistics reveal that the construction sector, and specifically lung disease in the industry, is crucial to real success in tackling Britain’s occupational disease burden. Because of this, on 28th April 2015, BOHS launched the Breathe Freely initiative to prevent occupational lung disease in the construction industry, having noted that:
- Of all the industry sectors, it is the construction industry that accounts for the largest proportion (over 40%) of Britain’s cancer deaths with 3,500 occupational cancer deaths each year caused by exposures in this sector.
- The majority of these cases of cancer are caused by breathing in carcinogenic substances. The most significant carcinogens in the construction sector are past exposure to asbestos (69%), followed by silica (17%), painting and diesel engine exhaust fumes (6-7% each).
- With regard to lung disease, construction is among the top five industries for deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), such as bronchitis and emphysema.
Commenting on the HSE’s forthcoming five-year strategy, Adrian Hirst, President of BOHS, said, “We at BOHS intend to participate fully within the HSE’s process of engagement in order to achieve a new five-year strategy to help Great Britain work well. Furthermore, once the HSE’s strategy is formally launched, the Society has pledged to collaborate closely with the HSE, employers, trade unions and other influential people and organisations in support of our common goal of highlighting and reducing work-related ill-health in Britain. This is an issue which no single agency, sector or organisation can tackle alone and we look forward to vital strategic co-operation with HSE and others in this regard during the next five years.”