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March 5, 2015

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Health – the elephant in the room

The BOHS’ Steve Perkins calls for greater understanding of ‘health’ within health and safety – the elephant in the room.

Statistics don’t lie. HSE estimates there are over 13,000 deaths every year due to occupational related accidents and diseases1. 99 per cent of mortality is attributable to the latter.

Speaking at the Barbour Directors’ Club, held recently at the National Motorbike Museum in Birmingham, Steve Perkins, the BOHS Chief Executive, was keen to ask his own question: “Are we equipped to deal with the ‘health’ in health and safety?” His own response was a resounding no – mainly due to our lack of awareness of this issue.

Of course, the fact that great strides have been made in reducing the annual toll of workplace fatalities over the last century; should not be overlooked but 13,500 new cases of occupational cancer each year and 8,500 cases of respiratory disease are alarming trends. The UK also pays a considerable economic price with HSE estimating an annual cost of £8.5bn from occupational ill health and disease.

Back in 1972, Robens understood that occupational health comprised two branches: medicine and hygiene. The former focused on cure and health of the worker, the latter highlighting prevention and risks to the workplace. Perkins suggested: “The term occupational health has confusingly come to mean the whole of the health of the workplace and is now developing further to encompass health promotion and wellbeing. The place of the preventative discipline of occupational hygiene has been largely forgotten.”

Concluding his presentation, Perkins urged the delegates to realise that the ‘health’ in health and safety should be “what was always intended to be: a powerful three way partnership between occupational health and wellbeing.”

Time and statistics will tell if Perkins’ vision comes to light.

The next Barbour Director’s Club takes place in Manchester on the 25th March 2015. Book your place here.



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