Our annual day seminar on 20 October 2016 focussed on ways of identifying and managing occupational health in support of HSE’s Helping Great Britain Work Well campaign. A number of motivational speakers made thought provoking presentations.

The Future for the Health and Safety Practitioner & Seminar Overview

Chairman:    Tim Briggs MA CFIOSH IPP IOSH, Immediate-Past President, IOSH and Course Leader, Leeds Beckett University

Tim predicted that tomorrow’s safety practitioners would need to be ready to face the following challenges in their workplaces: competence, professionalism, health involvement, leadership, use of learning and reflection and ethical business practices.

He then reminded delegates that occupational health problems have already been identified by HSE as one of their most difficult workplace challenges as part of their Helping Great Britain Work Well campaign.

Finally Tim suggested that delegates should consider following Desmond Tutu’s advice and: “…Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good that when put together can change the world…”

A copy of Tim’s presentation can be found here:  Seminar overview


Health risks at work – do you know yours?  & the LoCHER project

Speaker: John Cairns, Chairman, Safety Groups UK

John explained that SGUK have developed a free interactive tool box talk called the Safe Tea Break. It covers eight key health risks at work: breathing, hearing, touch, muscles, bones and joints, wellbeing, think for 30 seconds and slips and trips.

He also drew delegates attention to another SGUK initiative called the LOcHER project – Learning Occupational Health by Experiencing Risks. He explained that this project focuses on innovative ways of making young workers, especially apprentices, aware of how to avoid un-necessary workplace accidents and why and how they can protect themselves from occupational health problems. He said that successful LOcHER projects dealing with welding fumes, spray painting and isocyanates have been piloted with apprentices attending South Essex College, Preston College and Coleg Gwent.

John explained that SGUK were encouraging other employers and colleges to take part in both these initiatives and said that these SGUK initiatives linked into HSE‘s Helping Great Britain Work Well campaign.

A copy of John’s presentation can be found here: Occupational health – engaging workers


IOSH No Time to Lose campaign – spotlight on silica dust and diesel exhaust fumes

Speaker: Tim Briggs MA CFIOSH IPP IOSH, Immediate-Past President, IOSH and Course Leader, Leeds Beckett University

Tim began his presentation with a brief overview of the IOSH No Time to Lose campaign that seeks to raise awareness of workplace environments and tasks that can trigger occupational cancer.

The main focus of Tim’s presentation was silica. He explained where silica is found, what it is and how silica dust is ubiquitous and can harm people’s health. He said that silica dust is generated and needs managing in workplace tasks such as: sweeping up, laying ballast, cutting concrete, brick laying, tunnelling and stone working. he emphasised that the most harmful dusts are often those that you can’t see.

Tim then looked the hierarchy of control measures for dust. He emphasised that elimination was the most desirable option but, unfortunately, this was often very difficult or prohibitively expensive so that substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls (training and work scheduling) and/or personal protective equipment had to be used instead.

Unfortunately Tim did not have time to cover diesel exhaust fumes as scheduled but his presentation includes some of the information that he had planned to give during his talk.

A copy of Tim’s presentation can be found here:  Occupational cancer focussing on silica dust and diesel fumes


What is occupational hygiene? Why is it important? And why ignoring it is bad for business (includes breathing freely and respiratory disease)

Speaker: Julian Dowson, Director, Peritus Health Management

Julian began his presentation with a brief overview of the BOHS Breathe Freely campaign. he explained that recent statistics published by HSE for 2014/15 showed that 99% (~13,000) of workplace deaths were as a result of occupational diseases compared with 1% (142) that were the result of workplace accidents. This a startling statistic!

Julian said that there were three important factors needed to be taken into account to create a healthy workplace: staff wellbeing, risk prevention and control and health surveillance. He explained that employers had a responsibility to ensure that workplaces were safe places to work and work environments did not cause health problems. He then identified ways that managers could assess their workplace risks: use BOHS Breathe Freely, fact sheets and case studies to help identify problems and solutions, sign-up to and implement the Management Standard and seek advice from a competent hygienist if necessary.

Julian then explained the role of a competent hygienist and used case studies to illustrate ways that they help employers identify and control workplace occupational health hazards. He then identified things that employers needed to check to ensure that a consultant hygienist gave relevant and competent advice. These included: providing copies of all Safety Data Sheets relevant to the work being undertaken, providing clear information on manufacturing and/or work processes, agreeing a sampling strategy that takes account of when high dust or vapour emissions may occur, arrange hygienist site visits that take account of work shift patterns, provide information about previous training initiatives and worker involvement in designing safe systems of work and ensure that the hygienist’s report includes recommendations and an action plan.

Julian’s session also included a memorable demonstration of why Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) needs to be ‘fit for purpose’.

A copy of Julian’s presentation can be found here: The importance of occupational hygiene


Handling risks: engaging with employees to find practical solutions; one size does not fit all! (included audience participation)

Speaker:    Amanda Dowson RGN SPCPHN(OH) BA(Hons) CMIOSH, Specialist Practitioner in Occupational Health Nursing and Safety Management

Amanda explained that helping workers understand the importance of proper posture and core strength, combined with handling assessments that take account of an individual’s height and experience, can prevent most workplace back problems.

Her presentation focused on ways of improving workers’ postural awareness, their understanding of body mechanics and why they needed to maintain their core strength. She emphasised the importance of employee engagement in workplace handling initiatives and the use of handling risk assessments that took account of an individual’s physical characteristics.

She explained how this improved understanding of body mechanics could then be used, in conjunction with HSE‘s MAC Tool, to develop safer handling techniques (with employee input), for lower limb hazards, push-pull hazards and lifting hazards.

Amanda’s presentation was interspersed with delegate participation exercises that demonstrated why posture and core muscle strength was so important.

A copy of Amanda’s presentation can be found here:  Managing handling risks


Understanding the hidden hazards that cause sick building syndrome

Speaker: Damien Eaves, Director, Validate Consulting

Damien began his presentation by explaining that ‘sick building syndrome’ is an umbrella term used to describe illnesses that are triggered by technical problems associated with the design of work environments, or malfunctioning equipment. ‘Sick building syndrome’ illnesses are often respiratory (caused by dusts, microbes and vapours etc…) or headaches (caused by humidity problems, noise, poor air quality etc…). He explained that such problems often occur when a building designed for one purpose is converted to accommodate a different type of work activity.

Damien illustrated his talk with interesting case studies. One of these featured a building where a number of rooms had been converted into a large open plan office but no thought had been given to the location of the heating thermostat relative to windows, ventilation systems and desk positions. This led to some workers feeling unwell due to persistent over-heating while others were feeling unwell because they persistently felt cold. The problem was solved by modifying the heating and ventilation systems.

Damien explained that occupational hygienists use workplace observations to pin-point the likely source of ‘sick building syndrome’ problems. They can then undertake relevant tests to confirm whether or not they have identified the source of the problem correctly. Appropriate tests usually include one or more of the following: microbiological analysis, gas monitoring, dust monitoring, noise monitoring, relative humidity measurements and temperature measurements. Once the source of the problem has been identified practical solutions can be devised and implemented. This is not necessarily an expensive process.


A framework for identifying and managing potential occupational health risks in the workplace

Speaker: Sally Baker, Specialist Practitioner, Occupational Health, Fit2Work Ltd

Sally’s presentation focused on ways of identifying and managing potential occupational health risks in the workplace.

She explained that it is important to identify and manage potential health hazards associated with employees’ work tasks before they became a problem. She said that managers can do this by: unannounced ‘walk abouts’, reviewing Risk Assessments regularly to ensure that they have taken account of potential occupational hazards and evaluating returns from employee reporting schemes (if available).

She reminded delegates that occupational health risks can be chemical, physical, ergonomic, biological and/or psychological/organisational and that UK law requires formal health surveillance for some workplace activities. She suggested that there are times when it is beneficial for organisations to seek advice from an occupational heath expert for other employees too. She proposed that health surveillance is worthwhile: if it is known that particular working practices may cause ill-health, when validated techniques are available to detect the onset of ill health and if employees think that they will benefit from working with an occupational health professional.

Sally said that common health surveillance included tests or checks for: hearing ability, lung function, hand/body vibration injury, skin assessments, body contamination by ionising radiation and lead etc… She said that when health problems such as these are picked up early they are much easier to manage.

She then discussed the benefits of employee health assessments. She explained that pre-employment health assessments can act as a bench mark – they can confirm whether or not the potential employee is fit to undertake the work they will be employed to do and this assessment can be used as a bench-mark if future health problems are claimed to have arisen because of the employee’s work environment.

Similarly periodic health assessments and exit health assessments can provide useful information for managers even though they cannot have access to an individual’s personal record without their permission (due to data protection law and confidentiality). However occupational health practitioners can pass on general information such as “…a high percentage of employees in department x are suffering from respiratory problems…” Such information can help managers when they review specific task Risk Assessments.

A copy of Sally’s presentation can be found here: Managing occupational health risks


Understanding Workplace Health Risks