Health is on the agenda of business and regulators. After many years as the Cinderella to safety, health is now the ‘hot’ topic. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has ‘tackling the costs of work-related ill-health’ as one of it’s national strategic objectives and the Go Home Healthy campaign is in full swing to target lung diseases, MSD’s and stress. HSE is actively publicising its latest round of inspection visits as being focused on health. Business is driving the health message too with many excellent initiatives in the areas of mental health and well-being. As Hugh Bonneville’s character, Ian Fletcher of ‘2012’ and ‘W1A’ fame would say, “that’s all good then”.
Actually… no it’s not.
After decades of focus on accident prevention (which in itself is not a bad thing at all) industry is now turning it’s attention to health. Given that 99% of all UK work-related fatalities and 86% of all sickness absence is due to work-related illness, not accidents, you could say it’s about time! But there is a danger that in the rush to be seen to ‘do health’ we forget all the excellent learning we’ve gained in tackling accidents and rush to implement quick-fixes and sticking plasters. As others have said, we should “tackle health like safety”, in the sense that health needs exactly the same strategic approach, founded on good risk management. The technical aspects will obviously require different skill-sets e.g. occupational hygiene, clinical and health promotion competencies. But these need to be utilised in a strategic framework that encompasses all the familiar aspects of leadership, stakeholder engagement, continuous improvement, culture etc.
I was recently invited to give the opening keynote at the 2018 Safer Highways Summit on this topic. The conference drew together 250 leaders in the highways sector from all the major construction contractors and Highways England. Check out the video of my presentation below.
I hope you find my presentation thought provoking. Workplace health presents us with huge challenges nationally, corporately and individually. Given the long latency nature of so much work-related ill-health and disease it will take determined leadership over the long term to genuinely tackle this problem. But if we still believe that “prevention is better than cure” and the first priority is to “do no harm” then surely this is not optional?