Health risk management
As a manager or company owner, you will be concerned if your employees’ health is affected by their work. Management skills can be applied to preventing ill health as part of running a business. The link between the workplace cause and later ill health is not always obvious.
This week’s article is intended to help the owners and managers of small and medium sized enterprises to control health risks arising from work.
- Approximately 1 million people suffer a workplace injury each year.
- 2 million people suffer ill health caused or made worse by work.
- Altogether 30 million working days a year are lost due to workplace injuries and ill health.
The two HSE cases this week both look at tragic accidents that shouldn’t have happened
- The explosion blew the lid and other equipment through the corrugated panels on the roof of the factory and into a neighbouring car park.
- The train started up and ran over his fingers. The child’s fingers required surgery and stitches but he made a good recovery.
Health risk management
Each year more people become ill as a result of their work than are killed or injured in industrial accidents. While most diseases caused by work do not kill, they can involve years of pain, suffering and discomfort for those affected. This might include musculo-skeletal problems, respiratory disease, dermatitis and noise induced hearing loss.
Find out if you have a problem
The starting point in managing health risks is finding the hazards in your workplace, and there may be a wide range.
What is a hazard?
A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm (substances or machines, methods of work and other aspects of work organisation). ACOP to Management Regulations 1999.
Some hazards to health are not as immediately obvious as others. For example some substances give off invisible vapours and dusts, whilst people “get used to” noise or fail to realise the stress that they are putting their body or mind under.
So check your workplace to see what hazards are there
The starting point in managing health risks is finding the hazards in your workplace, and there may be a wide range. So let’s start with pinpointing those hazards.
To pinpoint hazards:
- Have a walk around the workplace – take a fresh look at the way employees work, look at what they work with, look at what is already done to protect their health. Do they, for example, have to do
- reaching above shoulder height
- repetitive handling;
- strenuous pulling or pushing;
- Talk to employees – ask them if their work affects their health
- are they suffering from headaches;
- do they get skin irritations;
- or back problems;
- is their hearing being affected?
- get advice from suppliers of equipment, chemicals and other materials used at work
Suppliers of hazardous substances are required to provide information to users which includes:
- safety data sheets;
- proper labelling designed to make hazards and necessary controls clear.
Some suppliers may also provide:
- training in the use of their products;
- workplace surveys on exposure to health hazards
- Read safety data sheets, manufacturers’ and suppliers’ guidance.
Remember, some things such as radiation and micro-organisms cannot be detected just by looking.
Lifestyle and work
Of course some health problems can be caused both at work and at home. Handling chemicals in the workplace can cause dermatitis, as can washing powder used at home. Lifting heavy loads at work can cause back injury, as can, for example, moving furniture at home and leisure activities. Some existing health conditions can be made worse by work; a heavy smoker is more likely to suffer breathing problems following exposure to chemicals at work.
Be aware of the overlaps between work and non-work health risks. Legally, as an employer you need to tackle only work-related risks but many companies do not distinguish between the two. They deal with health risks at work and also promote the need for employees to look after their health by, for example, giving advice on smoking and drinking, diet, and exercise.
This is one company’s reason: ‘If someone does not turn up for work because of a bad back caused by work here or in their garden, the result for us is the same – no work’.
Decide what to do
Having found out what health hazards are present in your workplace you need now to decide what needs to be done so that your employees’ health is not harmed. It may be that what you already do is enough but you cannot decide this properly until you have gone through the following steps.
Who might be harmed?
First, you need to identify who may be at risk. Think about those workers, for example, who handle chemicals, operate noisy machines or who have to lift heavy or awkward loads manually. Don’t forget the risks to cleaners, maintenance and part-time workers. Could other people be harmed by what goes on in your place of work, for instance sales representatives, suppliers, customers and members of the public?
If you are a builder, for example, you need to consider your customer: Are there vulnerable people in the area such as:
- the elderly or
- people with health conditions?
How big are the risks?
Risk is the likelihood that the harm from a particular hazard is realised. The extent of the risk covers the number of people affected and the consequences for them. Therefore risk reflects both the likelihood and severity of the harm.
The next step is to decide how big the risks to health in your workplace are.
For example, if the job in question involves the use of a product that gives off hazardous fumes then you must consider:
- the amount of the substance in the air;
- how often the job is done. Is it all day every day or once or twice a year?
- Is it carried out in an enclosed or open space?
- the work method – how the product is used, e.g. if it is sprayed the risk will be greater than if brushed on;
- the number of people that could be affected – is just one person working with the paint or many?
- Could their work affect others?
- what could go wrong?
- are the precautions (exhaust ventilation, personal protective equipment) already taken sufficient? How do they compare with good practice and HSE or ‘trade’ guidance?
Answering these sorts of question is what is meant by risk assessment. Further guidance can be found for free here. It is useful to write down the results of risk assessments as you may need to look at them again. You are required to record ‘significant findings’ if you have five or more employees.
Remember also to review your risk assessment when the work changes and new materials are handled. It is easier to review it if it is written down.
What if a worker is ill?
You need to find out whether an employee’s ill health could have been caused or made worse by work. If the answer is yes – Ask these questions:
- What work has the employee been doing and how long for?
- Does the employee work with harmful materials or in such a way that his/her health could become affected?
- When did signs of ill health occur?
- What is the opinion of his/her GP and any occupational health advisers?
- Have the risks of the work activity been assessed?
- Does the risk assessment indicate that precautions are needed?
- Is the employee trained both for the job and in the use of any equipment used to control risk?
- Is protective clothing provided and used for the work?
- Could activities outside of work have caused ill health?
Do you need to set up health surveillance?
Health surveillance is about systematically watching out for early signs of work-related ill health in employees exposed to certain health risks so that measures can be taken to protect their health. It is not a substitute for controlling health risks at work and will only work if findings are acted upon.
It comprises a range of techniques from simple methods, such as looking for skin damage on hands from using certain chemicals, through more technical checks such as hearing tests, to more involved clinical examinations. It is required by law for certain jobs.
Check the legal requirements or seek advice if in doubt. Health records should be kept. Employees and their representatives should be involved in the early development of health surveillance programmes. As certain procedures can include taking samples and other personal information, respecting confidentiality is essential.
If you decide that improvements are needed, then act on your decisions using ERIC.
Start by seeing whether you can Eliminate whatever is causing the health risks.
If you cannot do this the next step is to Reduce the risks and so reduce the chance of the health of employees being affected. For example exposure to chemicals can be reduced by automated handling, enclosing the process or local exhaust ventilation.
The next step is to see if the risk can be Isolated
Exposure to noise levels can be Isolated by enclosing noisy machines and equipment with noise proof enclosures.
The final part of ERIC is to introduce Control measures such as redesigning or organising the work differently, or limiting the amount of time people are exposed to the risk.
Sometimes it is necessary to provide personal protection (PPE) such as respirators, ear defenders and face visors, as well as other measures. For example a local ventilation system may be provided for pouring a hazardous chemical so that the operator does not breathe in the fumes. However, if the chemical can also cause skin burns, protective clothing, gloves and a visor may be needed.
Because PPE protects only the wearer, and only if properly worn all of the time, it is better to give priority to measures which protect numbers of employees rather than individuals. PPE can be expensive to buy and maintain. Employees will need to be trained and supervised so that it is properly worn at all times.
The use of PPE at work is governed by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. It should always be considered as a last not a first resort.
Check what you have done
Once you have gone through the processes of deciding what to do and taking action, you need to check the result. There is little value in making changes without knowing if they are working.
There are a number of practical checks that you can make. These include checking that, for example:
- any set target for reducing health risks has been reached;
- ventilation systems, noise enclosures, automated handling equipment are working properly;
- records of sickness absence and work-related ill health show a reduced number of cases;
- personal protection is being properly used, cleaned and maintained.
Remember that if for any reason you:
- make changes to the work process;
- introduce new materials into the workplace;
- change the way in which risks are controlled;
you will need to check whether these changes have reduced or increased risks to health. Do not assume that everyone will make changes and pick up new skills without instruction and training.
Finally, remember that health risk management should be seen as a rolling programme of improvement.
Hopefully this article has given you ideas to help you control health risks arising from work.
If you have any topic you would like us to cover in this newsletter please contact us by phone 01458 253682, or email.
We have three courses set up, one in Bridgwater on 14th October and 2 in Glasgow but these are all fully booked.
However we are running the following courses:
EMERGENCY FIRST-AID AT WORK – ONE-DAY COURSE
Under the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure they provide adequately trained persons to cover their First-aid requirements. The following course has been approved and recognised by the HSE as meeting the basic requirements set by the regulations.
Who Is This Course Suitable For?
- Smaller companies
- Offices and shops with less than 50 employees and other low risk environments
- Employees working off site
- Self-employed people
- Anyone who wants to learn first aid and assist in an emergency situation.
- First Aid Kits
- How to manage an incident
- Treating an unconscious casualty
- Resuscitation and CPR
- Chest Pains
- Burns and Scalds
- Care and Communication
- Open Forum
Course Duration: 1 day
COURSE REF DATE(s) LOCATION
WSG. EFA . 1502 Thursday 15th October 2015 Taunton Racecourse
Fee: £120 to include Course notes, mid-morning & afternoon refreshments, Finger buffet lunch and a Certificate of Training (Fee subject to VAT)