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Are You Ignoring the ‘Health’ in Health & Safety?..5 key points for compliance.

Published on 18 May, 2013
Jean Fisher
Content Manager

Here at The Occupational Health Business Ltd we provide business health services to clients in Wales and around the UK and always ensure they are managing risks associated with health as well as safety.

I have been working in occupational health for over 25 years and never cease to be amazed at how companies seem to forget that in managing Health & Safety risks…..Health should come first.  Employees cannot work safely if there is a medical reason stopping them. Or, if their work is actually causing the development of ill health conditions.  Many accidents and dangerous occurrences happen because employees have health issues which are just not being managed.

5 key points to consider:-

1. Management of Health Safety in the Workplace Regs 1999.

These regulations cover comprehensively what employers should do to in terms of identifying and managing workplace risks to health & safety. The Regs state that ‘a risk assessment should take account of the way in which work is organised and the effects this can have on health (18f) 

If your risk assessments are all safety based, then maybe it’s time for a review to make sure that you are compliant with the law. Some health risks are better understood and managed than others.  Companies may undertake a DSE or pregnancy risk assessment, but completely ignore the fact that their FLT drivers do not meet the medical standards for driving.

Undertaking a periodic review of the reasons for sickness absence will also give you clues about any potential risks to health.

2. Defending Litigation.

Companies who do not assess risks to health are vulnerable to persistent claims from employees past and present and the insurance premiums paid will reflect this as it is an uncontrolled risk. 

A health assessment should be carried out on everybody on employment and exit from your company.  This will protect you from erroneous claims and ensure you are not placing an employee with a health issue in a risk situation i.e. an employee with dizziness working at height or an employee with a certain respiratory conditions working in confined spaces.

The Equality Act 2010 places an obligation on employers to put reasonable adjustments in place to allow employees to work without any detriment to existing medical conditions.

 Health records under COSHH have to be kept for 40 years…are you storing information correctly.  Can you defend any claims against you in a robust way because you have evidence of all your employee’s health status?

Also consider what happens when you use contractors?  How do you know that they are safe to work on site with your employees? Do you receive evidence from Agencies etc verifying health status or might you be vulnerable if things go wrong?

 3. Health Surveillance

Have you identified in your risk assessment what health surveillance is required under specific regulations i.e. COSHH? Health surveillance provides you with information regarding employee’s health and will help you to ensure your employee’s health is not being harmed by working for you. It also confirms and provides evidence that your control measures are working.

If the employee is exposed to noise or hand arm vibration health surveillance is needed under these specific Regs. Exposure to hazardous substances requires health surveillance under COSHH.  Exposure to Lead, Asbestos, Radiation and working with compressed air, requires specific medical examinations under these Regs.

There are also specific medical standards relating to driving and also operating a Fork Lift Truck.  Before sending employees on a training course you need to check that they are medically fit..are you routinely doing this?

4. Quality of Occupational Health Advice

You may well be having health surveillance and medicals carried out, but are you sure about the experience and training of the company you have selected.  The role of OH technician is very common today and a technician can indeed carry out the testing, but cannot give you interpretation or advice. This needs to be provided by qualified occupational health clinical specialists.

 Recently the HSE prosecuted a company for undertaking testing without the required skill level within the company to appropriately manage the outcomes of surveillance.  Using a technician may be cheaper, but do check what you are getting for your money.

5. Management of Stress at Work

It may be that you don’t have any specific processes which warrant health surveillance, but have you completed a risk assessment for stress and do you have a policy?  If not, then you are vulnerable to employee claims for ill health due to what they perceive as ‘work related stress’.  Any absence due to stress should be investigated in the same way as a workplace accident and remedial action taken. 

Occupational health services can assist you in the resolution of workplace issues due to employees notifying stress.

 So if you haven’t got health risks at work under control, you haven’t really got good health & safety management in place.

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