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Putting OH centre stage

first_img Previous Article Next Article Putting OH centre stageOn 1 Apr 2004 in Personnel Today TheGovernment is keen to put occupational health at the heart of its strategy onworkplace reforms. But how practical is its approach and what can OH do to help?  By Nic PatonTheGovernment’s new strategy on workplace health and safety has been described asthe biggest shake up in the sector in more than 30 years. For occupationalhealth professionals, the key questions are ‘is it?’ and ‘what will it mean forme?’.Atthis early stage, the strategy does appear radical. It also puts OH right atits heart.Unveiledin February, by minister for work Des Browne and Bill Callaghan, chair of theHealth & Safety Commission (HSC), the strategy outlines the key goals thatit argues will help to improve workplace health and safety:–the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities to targetresources at areas of greatest need, and having the confidence to be lessactive where risks are well managed, where the emphasis will instead be onadvice and support–promoting greater involvement of workers, particularly that of staff andmanagers to manage risk factors, such as stress, employee well-being andrehabilitation–making information more accessible and providing clearer and simpler advice–building better, closer relationships between the various health and safetybodies – for example, between local authorities and local OH units–emphasising that support does not necessarily mean enforcement, and so tryingto reduce the fear and stigma that comes with ‘calling in health and safety’,and looking at ways to drive home the message of the importance of health andsafety–improving the way the HSE and HSC communicate.Thenext phase involves drawing up proposals to look at how OH can provide bettersupport for health and safety, with a high-level strategic programme due to beoutlined in May.Apartnership agreement between local authorities and the HSE will be thrashedout between now and July, with proposals for improving advice and guidance andreducing the fear of enforcement being pulled together by September. Finally, astrategy for interventions will be drawn up by the end of the year.Whilethe country’s record on reducing accidents at work has been impressive, similarimprovements are needed to reduce ill health arising from work, said Browne atthe launch.“Itis vital that the whole health and safety system is involved and closepartnerships are  forged with otherstakeholders to bring about change and improvement,” he said. “This Governmentsees occupational health and safety as a cornerstone of a civilised society andwants to achieve a record that leads the world. “Greatstrides have already been made on safety improvements and I want to see similarprogress on occupational health,” he added.Callaghanpointed to the fact that the strategy is recognition that the working world,and the hazards that come with it, are changing. “Itis intended to reinforce our message about adopting a sensible approach tohealth and safety, about balancing risks and benefits,” he explained. “Weare not looking for a risk-free society, but one where risks are betterunderstood. Similarly we are signalling that more legislation will not be ourfirst response to new issues.” Thestrategy was intended to “further energise” the UK’s approach to improvingworkplace health and safety, he said.ForOH professionals, these sorts of sentiments, and the emphasis on words such as‘energise’ are, of course, largely to be welcomed. Anything that can help toraise the profile and effectiveness of OH within the workplace is a good thing.Butcaution remains about whether another document or another strategy coming fromthe centre is really going to make that much difference on the ground.Thefocus on changing perceptions about health and safety was useful, as was tryingto instil a more proactive approach in managers. GrahamJohnson, business development manager at Interact Health Management said: “Itis refreshing as a document. If employers can be encouraged to pick up a phoneor call a helpline or call centre that must be good.”Similarly,despite all the progress in changing the perception of OH among employers, itis still vital to work to improve the accessibility of OH and health and safetyin general, said Sharon Horan, director of OH nursing services at Aon HealthSolutions. Evenif the underlying message – of joined-up thinking and being proactive – is notexactly new, there is still a need to continue to push it until it sinks in,she argued.Ultimately,if the HSE and the Government are serious about giving OH a leg-up in terms ofprofile and focus, the profession is not going to object. But, if so, OH willneed to make sure it is continuing to build its own partnerships and bridges.  “Thereare a few places where occupational health is threaded and embedded within theculture of the organisation, but not many. We cannot continue to work inisolation any longer,” explained Horan.www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/hsc/strategy.htm Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more