Health, not just safety

Health, not just safety

EEUK’s Managing Director, Lee Johnson, tells of the importance of the health aspect in ‘health and safety’ and why we shouldn’t ignore it in his latest blog.

I held a seminar not too long ago for a group of Health and Safety professionals and it became clear to me that they were all about the safety, with not a lot of thought given to the health side of health and safety.

This got me thinking – is this the mind set and belief of safety professionals as a rule? Is health really the afterthought of the prevention of accidents? Do people prefer to protect against the prevention of slips, trips, and falls as opposed to the prevention of lung disease, hearing loss and vibration white finger? Or is it that this is the way we are trained to think, and it is simply inherent in our belief system that health and safety is all about safety?

Why is there more focus on ‘safety’?

It may be because for many years the most common cause of accidents were due to slips, trips and falls, which were collectively the major contributors of absence from the workplace. Now, with the awareness of things such as stress and noise induced hearing loss, which is costing us more in the UK than ever before, we should surely be focused much more on the health and wellbeing of our workers.

I appreciate I am being quite generic as I know the most conscientious of us pay as much attention to the health as we do the safety, but it is not universal. I see this day in and day out across the UK in all industry sectors and I can assure you the level of training, expertise and competence in this area is as diverse as you could possibly imagine. In fact, you probably could not imagine.

My experience

I recently visited a busy site which I will not name, but I can assure you the people there will not be reading this article or anything similar no doubt. The person responsible for safety did not know what a COSHH assessment was let alone have them in place and set up in a way that all workers were aware of the hazards and how to work with them safely. This site was infested with isocyanate and solvent containing materials. You don’t need me to tell you that the most common cause of occupational asthma is exposure to isocyanates.

I am not blaming the individual as they were put in a position that they simply were not equipped to work in. The responsibility lies with the man at the top, the man who runs the business that is using these materials for all and sundry to be exposed to. But how does he know what he needs to do? How do we teach the unaware to become aware?

How do we make our safety professionals more aware?

How do we put safety professionals in a position where they are able to look after long-term health, and once we have done this, how do we support them to raise awareness of the people that need it most? The answer is: the workers.

The guys at the sharp end. The guys who just want to turn up do their job the way they have been taught and go home and enjoy life with the money they have earned, to be told ten years down the line they will never hear the same again as the machine they operated for 20 years has made them deaf. Or they can never pick up a knife and fork at their favourite restaurant as the exposure to vibration through the grinder they have used every day for their working life has caused numbness and loss of feeling in fingers and hands. These are the harsh realities of poor management and a severe lack of awareness some safety professionals have.

Directors need to prioritise health and safety

It is difficult at times to get full support from a board of directors about a subject that does not interest them or has yet had no impact to them. You often provide an intangible service that cannot be touched or seen. Until that day when all goes wrong and something happens that turns someone’s world upside down – and then you suddenly become the most important person in the world.

The 9am meeting where Mr Business Owner shouts: ‘’How has this happened? Why did you not see this coming?” And you produce a report/email saying where we recommended an action, and an email from them explaining why it just cannot happen yet because of other investments on site.

A wood working company was recently fined six figures for not identifying the need to control exposure to wood dust. The cost to identify this and avoid that fine was less than 10% of the fine.

I know I am preaching to the converted, but you must appreciate my frustration when this information was provided with the exact intention to avoid this self-deserved fine.

The quest for perfection

How do we finally get everyone to work in a way that realises if we look after us now, we will look after us as a nation economically, physically, mentally and morally for years to come.

I write this blog to continually raise and maintain awareness in the subjects that we have learned over many years.

Find out how EEUK can help your business with occupational hygiene, water hygiene and health, safety and fire issues in the workplace by browsing our website, or contact the team at