Author Bio ▼

Dr Karen McDonnell is head of RoSPA Scotland & Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser. She is also the immediate past president of IOSH.
March 3, 2017

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Health and work: how big a nudge do we need?

direction-2025884_640Nothing attracts my attention more than a snippet on the radio or a mention in a local paper that someone has lost their life, been injured or is battling a disease that could have been prevented.

The recent green paper Work, Health and Disability: Improving Lives – focusing on the ‘good work is good for you’ message, well recognised within our profession – seeks to improve people’s lives by bringing them into the workplace, and provided the opportunity to nudge policy makers towards the preventative agenda.

The response from RoSPA’s National Occupational Safety and Health Committee (NOSHC) acknowledged that the disability employment gap is too wide, and welcomed the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Health and Work Strategy which recognises the causes of work-related ill health and the importance of ‘joined up’ thinking in reducing the number of people harmed by work.

We also took the opportunity to gently push the attention of policy makers towards the adverse effects of ‘bad’ work where people are exposed to hazards and associated risks simply as a consequence of earning a living, resulting in work-related ill health – a significant contributor to the staggering yet not unexpected statistics outlined in the foreword to the green paper.

On average, 1.8 million employees have a long-term sickness absence of 4 weeks or more in a year. Average waiting times for mental health treatment can differ by as much as 12 weeks across England and some evidence suggests treatment for musculoskeletal conditions can differ by as much as 23 weeks. Ill health among working age people costs the economy £100 billion and sickness absence costs employers £9 billion a year!

Over and above our focus on the workplace, RoSPA has encouraged a new national conversation around a wider vision for health and safety. More than 16,000 people die annually in accidents in the UK and more than 8 million visit A&E departments as a result of accidental injuries.

What is the impact of this on UK plc? These numbers have nudged upwards over time to a high point which is crippling our NHS, yet interventions to reduce the burden on injury are low cost and high impact. We need to think differently as citizens and organisations.

Non-work injuries to working age people exceed work related injuries by a factor of 3-4 times, and RoSPA research suggests that 10-20 per cent of all workplace absenteeism is as a result of injuries sustained outside of work.

Unfortunately very few businesses seek to measure this in a meaningful way, in order to understand causes of injury happening to staff outside working hours and where they might usefully work together to reduce these highly preventable episodes, thereby reducing the impact of accidents, which are the principal cause of death up to the age of 39 and indeed the principal cause of premature death for most of our lives.

The Corporate Governance Reform green paper, focusing on how to keep the United Kingdom in pole position as a world leader in corporate governance combining high standards with low burdens and flexibility, consultation exercise coincided with the publication of the Work, Health and Disability green paper.

This ‘happenstance’ does we believe provide an opportunity for encouraging fresh thinking across both agendas, and developing connections between good governance and its impact on work and health. Whilst UK plc carries the burden of work related stress, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational lung disease there is an impact on the ‘bottom line’ on an individual personal basis which needs to be understood in the boardroom.

Fair work and corporate governance go hand in hand but the current climate within the UK is very much anti-regulation, so it is difficult to envisage new ‘red tape’ being tolerated as a consequence of reform.

But to consider reform from the perspective of fair work might just be a step in the right direction, increasing sustainable economic growth and reducing inequality through the promotion of greater diversity, innovation and equality in the workplace.

We need to communicate the negative impact on UK plc of work-related harms with a view to influencing shareholder opinion and making this part of the open conversations about excessive executive pay. Sadly there is still relative silence about fatalities and work-related ill health.

Let’s nudge investors towards taking these factors into account as part of ethical investment choices, therefore gently migrating towards choosing where to invest based on the impact of the business on the health and wellbeing of employees, and sustainability generally.

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
3 years ago

Brilliant another week closer to critical mass of WHO ‘nudge’ campaign fostering Better Workplaces and perhaps, the restoration of some quality of work/life, Wellbeing & asset value of human beings opposed to Human Resources…. So far raising awareness of the costs of performance deficits linked to work stress, resulting in disaffection and lost productivity over the last 30 years increasingly exacerbated by growing presenteeism has had little or no affect on stimulating or nudging any real signs of desire to change manage workers experience of employment. Nevertheless, now it appears that their is a head of water building that will… Read more »

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