Health and safety gets wider remit

The
Government is set to expand the roles of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC)
and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in a bid to create healthier workplaces.

Speaking
exclusively to Personnel Today, Jane Kennedy, minister of state for work, said
the HSC and HSE had "fantastic" records in creating safe workplaces.
But she was unsure whether they had "sufficient focus" on promoting
healthy environments for work.

"[The
Government] is beginning to develop its role in advising business on how to
provide healthier workplaces and what to do with staff who appear to be
suffering from illnesses they claim are derived from work," she said.

Kennedy’s
comments follow a report published last month by the cross-party Work and
Pensions Committee on the work of the HSC and HSE.

The
report said that both bodies recognised there was a ‘huge job’ to do on health,
but also expressed concern over the HSE’s capacity and resources to show
leadership on the issue.

However,
the committee recommended that Government reviews the funding available to the
HSE to fulfil its growing role.

Workplaces
continue to create huge health problems across the country. According to
official figures from 2001-2002, an estimated 2.3 million people in the UK were
suffering from an illness which they believed was caused or made worse by their
work.

Kennedy
said the Government was conscious that its record on sickness absence,
particularly in the public sector, could be improved. Part of this could mean
shifting the responsibility for issuing sicknotes away from GPs.

"We
are studying whether it would be appropriate for other health professionals to
have responsibility for signing people off work," said Kennedy. "Our
view is that we need a broader understanding across primary healthcare
specialists about the importance of occupational health.

"It
is an accepted truth that work is a very good therapy and helping people stay
in work is best for them."

Pilot
schemes using OH specialists are currently under way around the country and
will be evaluated by academics at the University of Warwick.

By Mike Berry

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