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Nick Warburton is former editor of SHP Magazine. He is currently working as a freelance journalist and as an account manager at Technical Publicity.
November 8, 2016

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Health risk focus at the HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory

apetureforhealthIn the second in a series of articles on HSL’s new centres, Nick Warburton speaks to Clare Forshaw, Head of the Centre for Health, about its holistic approach to health risk management and how the centre’s ‘best-fit’ solutions can help organisations achieve tangible improvements.

Over the past year, HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) has been developing five unique centres across its business, which reflect its diverse and extensive range of expertise in scientific research and development. The Centre for Health is a case in point.

Drawing on its rich pool of experts who work across a broad spectrum of health issues, the centre has been set up specifically to help organisations understand what health management is and how it fits into their day-to-day business.

Taking a holistic approach to managing health risks, the Centre for Health will provide support for organisations, enabling them to take ownership of complex health risk management issues and then guiding them so they can monitor and manage health management in a much more systematic way, while also demonstrating value for money.

“It can seem quite overwhelming as there are lots of different strands for a business to try and cope with around health,” explains Clare Forshaw, who heads up the Centre for Health.

“When organisations are stimulated through various routes to say, ‘you need to do more on health’, when they look at what that covers, it can become quite a beast. For many companies it is hard to know where to start and how to tackle it.”


Clare Forshaw

The Centre for Health offers a tailored roadmap for an organisation that reflects their ‘Complete Worker Health Solutions’ approach. This involves a stepwise, systematic action plan to tackle the health issues that are unique to the specific business. In other words, identifying the core issues and actions and then breaking the challenge down in to manageable, bite-size chunks so that organisations can achieve tangible improvements. It is key to engage with senior leaders in organisations.

“The first step is for organisations to understand what their problems are around health so that they know what ‘health’ means to their business.  We can help to make this happen, make health more visible and a priority at an organisational/management level,” explains Forshaw.

“There is a lot of untargeted and unmonitored effort and spend in relation to health and I think we can really help organisations focus their efforts and resources into where they will have the greatest impact.

“We don’t want to be waiting for the statistics to be published years later before we know we are making an impact. We can’t sit back and wait to see if there has been an impact from any interventions, we need to be confident we are doing the right things now.”

To help organisations manage the risks effectively, HSL works on the concept of smart key performance indicators (KPIs) for health performance. Working with organisations through consultancy or facilitated workshops, the Centre for Health uses an evidence-based and structured approach to define health management maturity and set a standard to work towards.

“In a similar way to the safety climate and safety culture tools, this approach particularly looks at what the key factors are for success in health and the nuances around tackling these issues successfully,” explains Forshaw.

“We work with an organisation across the different roles involved, for example HR and senior managers, and get them to challenge each other and understand where they as a business will need to focus.

“It’s about bringing together the different players and saying: ‘What are you all up to? Do you understand how it all fits together and what each of your needs are?’ We help organisations by providing an action plan, highlighting where they are in terms of current maturity and how they can progress to the next level.”

Forshaw is clear to emphasise that the focus is on empowering organisations with the skills they need to take ownership of health risk management. It’s not about sending in the technical experts to solve a problem and then walking away. KPIs tailored to the risk are critical because they enable the organisations to pick up early-on whether their actions are effective and having the right impact.

“The longer-term strategy is to look at how we strive for excellence and integrate that into a strong health, wellbeing and cost-effective strategy for business.”

Making sure that senior leaders take and maintain ownership and don’t delegate it to others in the organisation is a pivotal part of the process, stresses Forshaw.

“If we are going to make a difference on the huge burden of statistics of ill health, then senior leaders need a means by which they can contribute. Having stronger leadership on health, not just on health and safety, is where we can start to help organisations.”

Looking more broadly, HSL’s five centres will also underpin the work undertaken in the Health and Safety Executive’s Helping Great Britain Work Well strategy. Two of the strategy’s themes are tackling ill health and taking a proportionate approach to risk management. The Centre for Health ticks both boxes. The centre’s approach also reflects the general strategy message: engaging and working in partnership with industry.

This also applies to working with the other four centres when there is an overlap. For instance, in the case of the Centre for Human and Organisational Performance, the two centres will collaborate and work in partnership with organisations to resolve health issues that involve tackling attitudes and behaviours.

Alternatively, it might be about influencing people to do the right things or to do things in a different way. Likewise, the Centre for Health works closely with the Centre for Risk Management to learn from approaches used to finding solutions to complex risk issues which can be applied to health.

“For many people, health falls into a complex risk matter, so we can apply learning from the models used for the risk management of complex safety issues,” explains Forshaw. “It’s about good management and oversight to tackle these problems and how the lessons learnt from success in safety can be applied to health.”

Returning to where she started, Forshaw emphasises that the health solutions provided have to be made relevant to each individual business, otherwise it won’t work.

“In health, there has been a bit of a trend to ‘one size fits all’ KPIs or off-the-shelf solutions to many of the problems that we know people struggle with,” she explains.

“We’ve got to come to the realisation that there is no typical health-exposure, there is no typical business model for this. It’s about working with organisations and what their controls are, looking at how they might fail and then understanding that within their particular business. It has to be worked through for each business and scenario and what their priorities are. It’s not as easy as picking something off the shelf and dropping it in and hoping it works.”

Equally important, it’s about giving businesses something that is sustainable, she concludes. “It’s not a quick win. It’s a step-wise approach. Organisations need to start somewhere. We need to make a difference and we need a change in the way we approach health in order to make that difference. It has to be something that is sustainable for the future.”

The Centre for Health will be running a series of webinars later in the year to outline its approach. To find out more, email [email protected]

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
6 years ago

I understand the concept of a joined-up even, holistic behavioural approach, sort of, nudging people in taking responsibility for their own HEALTH & Safety nevertheless, for far too long people have accepted the conditions in which they find themselves, especially since 2008, as their sense of making some positive net contribution to their employers business has declined, they have lost any sense of belonging as ‘approval deprivation’ leaves them, just the human resources, with hightend levels of performance anxiety & just working to live . I still cannot believe, as the developer of a patented DSE Visual Risk Assessment Tool-Kit,… Read more »