Hutton tells safety practitioners to take key role in OH strategy

The government is joining for­ces with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) to give safety practitioners a bigger role in delivering the national occupational health strategy, the leading workplace minister announced at this year’s safety conference.

John Hutton, secretary of state for work and pensions, announced the new partnership at the annual conference of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health in March.

He told delegates that safety practitioners would be supported by the government in playing a bigger role in helping absent staff return to work, and in tackling illnesses and absence caused by occupational health issues.

“Health and safety practitioners have a crucial role to play in mentoring and supporting those rejoining the workforce. IOSH is playing a critical role in leading from the front,” Hutton said.

The announcement formalises the move to draw on the 30,000 safety practitioner members of IOSH to plug the gap in occupational health provision and deliver the Health Work and Wellbeing strategy launched by the government in October 2005.

IOSH president Lisa Fowlie said that drafting in 10,000 safety practitioners to support traditional OH responsibilities of safe return to work for incapacitated employees and preventing work-related ill- health would compensate for the low numbers of OH nurses and ­doctors available.

Fowlie told delegates: “The health of the working age population has been a neglected topic for a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, there are currently only a few thousand specialist occupational health doctors and nurses in the UK, which is woefully inadequate to deal with the potential numbers who may return or join the workforce.”

The IOSH toolkit for work-­related stress and musculoskeletal disorders was cited by Hutton as an example of how safety practitioners could develop OH knowledge.

He said health and safety issues, which tend to get negative treatment in the press, need more media coverage.

Hutton also announced a review with the Department of Health of the health of the UK’s working population.

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