An occupational health professional is, technically, never off duty – even while on leave – so they are inadvertently exempt from the Working Time Regulations.
Proposed Working Time (Occupational Health Amendment) Regulations are now being prepared, with a year-long period of consultation ending on 31 March 2006. Opinions will be gratefully received by the under-secretary of employment (Leisure-Education Specialist Scoping), with special responsibility for OH affairs during the consultation period.
‘As if it were a workplace’
The Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) newly-created ‘working holiday department’ has been carrying out a report into the need for constant vigilance, which can only be exerted by trained occupational health personnel. As a result, the following preliminary outline of information to be contained in the guidelines has been drafted.
Risk assessments are particularly required to avoid repetitive strain injuries on lever-operated gambling machines. The dangers of poker machines are well-known. Traditional gambling, such as the use of betting shops, has its own dangers, since there may be passive smoking hazards. Above all, the tensions engendered by the uncertainty of the outcome of the observed sporting activity or, worse, participating in it, can lead to disability considerations, such as the inability to concentrate leading to the despair of, for example, failing to spot a winner. Occupational health personnel on holiday in Las Vegas should never fail to alert the UK HSE of the risks to British travellers.
Whether participating in sport at an active or proficient level, it would be negligent for a member of the OH profession to fail to advise fellow participants on safety procedures.
At the start of the holiday, usually on boarding the coach to the destination, a written report should be compiled. The use of a data-protected questionnaire is strongly recommended to accumulate the necessary detail.
Upon its completion, it should be copied to the travel agent, as well as the HSE, covering concerns that have arisen, whether there is any basis for them or not. The final assessment will of course be completed at governmental level.
As the likely outcome of an adverse report will be abolition of the sport in question, it is natural that confidentiality must be respected in full. Therefore, the type of sport should not be easily identified.1 Description of all activities should be in neutral terms to protect the anonymity of the sports-player/observer unless there has been a specific, signed waiver.
Lying in the sun
Ever since the ‘coconut case’ – the details of which are so familiar to the profession that they need not be repeated here – it has been clear that there is a duty on people trained in risk assessment to consider the safety of beaches for the purposes for which they are purportedly designated.
It is important to include in any risk assessment not only the control of airborne articles as covered by the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002, but also risks caused by airborne creatures.
Where there is the likelihood of insect bites, including scorpions, sand-fleas, tsetse flies and all forms of arachnids, the duty of care applies to attendance at lake-side, beach-type facilities consisting of sand or shale, and also covers lawns and decks.
Falling objects should be anticipated and, if that is not possible, their effects should be avoided by taking measures such as calling out: “Watch out for falling timber/rocks/meteorites/locusts”, as the case may be. When in doubt about the nature of the item, in some circumstances, it may be sufficient to say something such as: “Get out of the way.”
Scaling the heights of mountains can no longer encompass reliance on a tour leader to ensure safety. The guidance is very likely to require basic knowledge of knots (which can also be used on sailing holidays for tying boats and similar objects, which are likely to move if not otherwise restrained).
Knotting requires manual dexterity, which must be suitable and sufficient for the purpose. This is particularly applicable to the personal use of rope, string or twine for joining groups of persons in mountaineering or similar activities.
Many people enjoy sliding about on snow, irrespective of the risks of broken limbs and, in the case of unavailable ski instructors, broken hearts.
All aspects of winter sports should be encompassed by the reasonably vigilant OH traveller. It is important to remember that a risk assessment should include the need for personal protective equipment, as required by the 2002 regulations. An ill-equipped person can only be grateful for OH assistance in having them removed from the slopes under an improvement notice or, in a dire emergency, a prohibition notice.
Staying at home
The Thomas and Gerald study on stress measurement in the 1950s makes it clear that staying at home can be more dangerous than a conventional holiday.
The importance of C v W is that there is no way for the OH profession to reduce its high level of alertness, even at home. It is currently suggested that travelling as a team could be helpful, as just one person could carry out the assessments or, in emergency situations, counsel other holiday-makers and/or members of the team.
In a large OH department, this would mean always being with friends and, with the common interest of the land-based job, there would be no lack of things to talk about.
Although this publication is not in any way political, it would be a hard journalistic OH heart that could refuse to support to the suffragettes (or suffragers) of the 21st century, who are willing to fight for the right to a day’s rest for a day’s work. The lessons of C v W (see casebook above) should be learned and put to good use, and the profession should have its well-earned holiday in accordance with its statutory and, indeed, collective human rights.
Any enquiry about this article may be made, but preferably not, to Joan Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 8943 0393
1. Where people regard their work as fun, there is a corresponding duty, thus work should not be identified in any holiday risk assessment
C v W
In this case, which has colossal implications for the rights of the profession to a family and private life, C, posing as an undercover OH nurse, went on a Mediterranean cruise.
In attempting to gain access to her accommodation, she slipped on the gang-plank as the ship hit a mobile iceberg, which had been towed by the liner in a tasteless joke in what has come to be known as the ‘April Fool’ tradition of an iceberg crossing the equator where it would least be expected.
It rapidly became clear to C that no risk assessment had been carried out on the iceberg as required by current regulations and, since the iceberg was a workplace within the meaning of the relevant legislation, this was a clear breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASWA).
W disagreed with this contention and in the resulting argument, punctured C’s and other passengers’ lifejackets. C suffered stress as a result and, since she was on a reporting mission, claimed compensation for post-traumatic stress.
However, the passengers affected by W’s actions also considered themselves to be unprotected by the failure to carry out a risk assessment on the iceberg. C, of course, was liable, since she had personally foreseen the risk of towing the frozen workplace.
Hence, C v W became a class action (in this case, steerage v first, reflecting similar class distinctions noted on the late lamented Titanic, in which there was also an abysmal failure of occupational health requirements, if albeit preceding rapidly impending legislation).
The effect of the decision on the OH division of the High Court was upheld in the Court of Appeal and the European Leisure Cruise Court, with the effect that, if there is a member of the OH profession on board a cruise ship, even if in holiday mode, he, she or they (if travelling with a spouse, partner or sibling who, by blood-lines, is linked to the profession), there is an instant requirement to carry out a risk assessment on all aspects of the holiday environment as if it were a workplace which, according to C v W, it must be.
Further, the assessment must be carried out to the same standards when on land in, say, a holiday camp, leisure caravan or hotel of up to three-star standard.2 Comprehensive definitions will include all forms of leisure activity known to humankind, leaving no stone unturned, no depth unplumbed and no territory uncharted.
1. An educational video (Winslet and DiCaprio Occupational Health Foundation ISBN 010 405) is available for occupational health professionals who fancy a night in
2. Four star hotels and above are, by the current Holiday Arrangements Regulations, exempt from the provisions of the Working Time Regulations as they are inherently relaxing places to work for internal staff and for business travellers