‘Sustainable workplace health strategies’ needed to tackle long-term health risks

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The UK should put in place ‘Sustainable Workplace Health Strategies’ for each of its nations, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) has said, after it was revealed 38.8 million days were lost to illness and workplace injury last year.

Responding to the publication of the Health and Safety Executive’s annual Health and Safety at Work statistics, the BOHS said that the decline in the number of deaths from workplace illness or injury over the past decade had not been significant, and noted that the number of deaths from interstitial lung disease had actually increased.

It said Covid-19 might be “sharpening and deepening” the impacts of long-term exposures at work, citing research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that showed there were a number of diseases with strong occupational links that were associated with poorer outcomes for Covid-19 patients.

“There is so much focus on the immediate hazards that we miss the big dangers that are looming for us in the future and the huge opportunity we have to enable people to age well, not to be dependent on sickness benefits and work without fear,” said BOHS president Kelvin Williams.

The society said it did not make sense to carry on with an investment in occupational health that primarily focused on safety and treatment and “ignores the vital importance of preventing risks to health in the first place”.

BOHS called on the government to:

  • Design out health risks at work
  • Focus research on prevention and control of workplace health hazards
  • Use an understanding of human factors and their role in helping people manage their own health protection at work
  • Target enhanced occupational health services to those who need it most
  • Embed occupational hygiene and occupational medicine in mainstream healthcare training and education, and
  • Work with the healthcare sector to develop a whole-life strategy for managing occupational health and occupational hygiene exposures.

BOHS CEO Kevin Bampton said: “People would be surprised that in the 21st century, we are still missing obvious opportunities to curb the risk of being exposed to common hazards. We can so easily avoid so many cruel illnesses that will rob thousands of the loved ones and cost the country billions in benefits, healthcare costs and lost work.

“At a time where the country’s finances are likely to be stretched for decades because of the cost of Covid-19, we need to be planning to avoid a continuing legacy of avoidable ill-health. The measures don’t need to cost employers or the government more. It just requires a different mindset.”

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