Prevention, prevention, prevention

I once heard Sir Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, introduce himself as the boss of the ‘National Patch and Repair Service’! His rather tongue-in-cheek point being that if we didn’t drive a step change in prevention in all areas of health over the next few decades then the NHS would simply be reduced to patching and repairing as the effects of an ageing population took its inevitable toll on resources.

With workplace wellbeing we have embraced prevention when it comes to lifestyle related disease so why do we sometimes struggle to do that effectively with the diseases caused directly by the work we actually give our employees? It makes no sense to do one without the other.


Everyone protected at work

So what does good look like when it comes to protecting our people’s health in the workplace? Steve Perkins Associates health protection excellence model provides a clear concise summary to help you understand what needs to be in place.

At its heart is the vision of Everyone Protected at Work. Around the outside are five Critical Success Factors (CSF), which tend to flow in a cycle (particularly if the organisation is starting from a low level of health protection cultural maturity) beginning with awareness.


Accident prevention ≠ health protection

In order to achieve these CSFs an underpinning foundation is needed reflected in the inner circle of five strategic enablers. You’ll notice that these descriptors could quite easily transpose straight over into a safety excellence model. If you already have a strong safety culture then you’ll be in a good position to begin the journey to a strong health culture. However, the first and biggest step is to admit that, accident prevention does not equal health protection, despite the fact that the words ‘health’ and ‘safety’ are so intertwined in the workplace vocabulary.

They are based on equally important, but different, technical professional disciplines.  Health protection requires occupational hygiene, which gives a practical scientific understanding of biology, physics, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, toxicology, engineering and ergonomics. Having said that there is much learning that can be taken from safety in areas such as risk management, cultural transformation and behaviour change, and used in the strategic application of occupational hygiene.


Critical Success Factors

The five critical success factors of excellent workplace health protection are:

1. Hazard Awareness, since understanding underpins all effective action. And health hazards are not always obvious to people in the way that some safety risks are.

2. Health Ownership right from the top of the organisation. As with safety, this is about culture change and culture is shaped by leaders. They can’t do it alone of course, but without their endorsement and active support change initiatives won’t even get off the ground.

3. Risk Management for health risks that is specific, and based on accurate exposure assessments and the implementation of effective exposure controls.

4. Culture Change. Health protection has to become so embedded that its known to be ‘the way we do things around here’. And that journey is generally a marathon, not a sprint.

5. Protection Assurance is the feedback mechanism that ensures your health risk controls are delivering the exposure reductions you expect all the time., every time.


Strategic Enablers

Underpinning the CSFs are five strategic enablers:

1. Stakeholder Engagement means engaging the right workers, supervisors, managers and organisational leaders; both operational and OSH people; and contractors as well as employees. Consultation and involvement is critical for any change to stick.

2. Leadership Coaching is often required because the language and technicalities of health can be unfamiliar. Coaching your key implementers through the early stages of transformation, focussing strongly on their Visible Felt Leadership, multiplies the effectiveness of your investment

3. Competent People. Understanding your skill gaps when it comes to health protection is critical to ensuring you resource the right technical competencies and training to support your improving health culture.

4. Leading Indicators. We know that what gets measured gets done. Leading indicators are challenging enough for safety, but crucial for health, given the latency issue for most occupational disease. You need to establish metrics that drive better health protection, not simply monitor ill-health incidence.

5. Effective Systems. Without falling into the trap of over-systemisation, health protection requires appropriate management systems to support the drive for continuous health improvement.

Steve Perkins Associates has the knowledge, experience, skills and drive to deliver all of this and more, tailored for your organisation’s specific circumstances and culture.