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July 10, 2014

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Intelligent ways to improve occupational health


You may be familiar with the Learning Stages model developed by Noel Burch at Gordon Training International over 30 years ago, which describes the phases we all go through in learning and applying new skills:

Stage One — Unconscious Incompetence.  

During this, we do not understand or know how to do something and, perhaps more crucially, we do not necessarily recognise the need to do it. We must therefore recognise our own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.

Stage Two — Conscious Incompetence

We still do not understand how to approach a problem, but we have at least realised that there is a problem to solve.  If we act on this we then move to the third stage of progress;

Stage Three — Conscious Competence,

We are learning to apply a new skill and reaping the benefit, even though the process is eating up a lot of our time and concentration.

Stage Four — Unconscious Competence

We have had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature”.

The Learning Stages model can be highly instructive when evaluating how best to improve these two pillars of performance.  For example, the current consensus is that when it comes to Safety in the workplace, businesses and employees tend to operate within learning stages three and four, but when it comes to occupational health, too many haven’t progressed beyond Stage two.

In 2013, the TUC proposed the concept, through its Time for Change manifesto, that occupational health should have the same priority as injury prevention measures. And in further recognition of the status quo, raising awareness of occupational health issues will be central to the agenda for the British Safety Council’s October Meeting. “For 2014,” the Council states, “the focus of our annual conference will be wide-ranging concerning workplace health — from initiatives that organisations have put in place to promote healthy lifestyles through to major programmes designed to eradicate the scourge of work-related disease.”  At last, industry is waking up. Now we just need to add some competence to the consciousness.

To keep pace with this welcome change in attitudes to health and upgrade your business toward greater competence, get some training to improve your skills when it comes to noise and dust monitoring. To prevent the losses to both employee health and business profitability that arise from, at one end of the scale, lost working hours, to, at the opposite end of the scale, claims for compensation raised as a result of serious illness, businesses can take advantage of modern instrumentation to monitor conditions and protect the business and workforce from the negative effects of exposure.

However, getting out of Conscious Incompetence and into Conscious Competence doesn’t mean just rushing in with the cheapest solution, so avoid being lulled into a false sense of security. For example, there may be an app for everything, but a quick fix such as this may not be a real fix at all and could effectively send you back to square one — Unconscious Incompetence — indefinitely.  Consider the description of this app: “With the built-in or headset microphone, SoundMeter Pro can measure peak sound levels of up to approximately 130dB. Results may vary between iOS devices and headset microphones. External microphones may enable the measurement of much higher sound levels”. 

Aside from the hefty caveats inherent in that summary, the industry requirement is actually to be able to measure a peak noise level up to 140dB, which is what ‘proper’ sound level meters (SLM) do.  The use of sound monitoring apps shows a growing awareness that more needs to be done but using an app is a Conscious Incompetent way to go about it, not to mention entirely unsuitable in some applications, for example, try taking an everyday mobile phone around a petrochemical plant.

Having eschewed the dreaded ‘quick fix’, and avoided wasting time and money by ignoring the problem until it is too late – or simply not addressing it at all – develop your Conscious Incompetence into Conscious Competence and choose a method that is cost and time effective. For noise monitoring, ISO 9162 will guide you towards this. The publication of ‘EN ISO 9612:2009 Determination of occupational noise exposure — Engineering method’ heralds a harmonised standard by which occupational noise exposure may be determined in order to comply with European Directive 2003/10/EC.  It defines the minimum Health & Safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks and gives an approach to determine occupational noise exposure.  The document also states that the sound level meter or noise dosimeter plays an important role here, and that modern technology reduces the risk of errors. When it comes to dust, a great start to set you on the right course from the outset is to check, where you can simply enter the Hazardous Material you are sampling for into the search box and be presented with a relevant test method and products suitable for your application.

These are just some of the ways we need to ensure best practice and avoid the common mistakes when it comes to monitoring dust and noise.  But by following this advice — and most importantly, by starting to treat occupational health like safety — you can begin to protect the workforce and the business by leaving unconscious incompetence behind.



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9 years ago

Rob, some brief info on sound measurement, mentions standard ~ISO9162