Health and safety priorities are too often driven by a fear of litigation or a focus, particularly in the media, on issues that are trivial, whereas major ongoing health risks, such as exposures at work, remain poorly understood or managed, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) has warned.
Its call came in a response to the Government’s announcement in June of a major review of health and safety law and practice by Lord Young of Graffham.
The BOHS said that “disproportionately little attention” was paid to health exposures at work, despite being a major cause of death and disability in the UK. It said that 8,000 deaths a year are caused from occupational cancer and 13,500 cancer registrations are associated with work-related exposure to carcinogenic agents.
The BOHS said: “Balancing attention towards prevention of chronic ill health arising from exposure risks will require greater attention to occupational hygiene competencies – skills required to assess and control real risks to health from the work environment.
“There is a need to rebalance the situation to ensure focus on management of genuine health and safety risks rather than reacting to perceived risks of civil or criminal action.
“Today, the term health and safety is used in the media as an umbrella term for issues ranging from food hygiene to almost any health or safety aspect of wider sociological issues.
“It is important to be clear which subject we are talking about and who is accountable. Extending the Health and Safety Executive’s remit from occupational risks towards issues such as adventure holidays over stretches its expertise, blurs its role and risks undermining its authority.”
The Young review is Whitehall-wide and is examining health and safety laws and how they are applied. It was expected to report over the summer this year and cover issues such as the “application and perception of health and safety legislation, together with the rise of the compensation culture over the past decade”.