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Black cats and bureaucrats

Posted on August 17, 2023

There have been a couple of developments in the world of health and safety that have caught my eye recently. Both are different, but related.

Firstly, I read that nine of the UK’s most prominent health and safety organisations have united to form the Occupational Safety and Health Stakeholder Alliance (OSHSA), “offering a unified 360-degree perspective on critical issues for the first time”.

Those involved are the British Occupational Hygiene Society, British Safety Council, British Safety Industry Federation, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, International Institute of Risk and Safety Management, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, National Examination Board for Occupational Safety and Health and the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors.

Collaboration at last

In a statement, it said the alliance is to draw on members’ collective expertise “to inform and support OSH decision-making across government policy-maker, corporate and professional levels.” Who would have thought that is has taken until now to band together for the public good?

Mental health is top of the agenda because it accounts for more than half of all workplace ‘incidents’, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Apparently the UK is “less well advanced regarding the mitigation of mental health issues than many of its EU counterparts”. Well the less said about that the better – probably – but I can’t help myself.

Earlier this year, the subject of health and safety was everywhere as the government planned a bonfire of EU laws as part of the post-Brexit hangover. The outcry was huge because it was rightly pointed out that it was reckless to do so without proper consultation. I wrote at the time: “It’s hard to believe that we might be considering getting rid of something just because of where it comes from. I hope common sense prevails.”

Here comes the cavalry

Two months ago, denying that it was a U-turn, the government scrapped the idea. We are good at safety in this country but less so at health, and here we are playing catch up with our European neighbours. Health and safety in the workplaces isn’t just about physical wellbeing. It’s also about workers’ mental wellbeing too. I’m really surprised that all those health and safety bodies have come together because since I have been involved in the sector it has always seemed to be a case of ‘my black cat’s blacker than your black cat’ – they all think they are slightly better than each other. So, it’s good to see them all talking about an issue that affects us all.

I think the Health and Safety profession has been too focused for too long on demonstrating their own worth, diluting their ‘added value’. Mental health and stress has always been here, it hasn’t just appeared because it’s become acceptable to talk about and not just ignore. They should have all been talking together and working in collaboration for a lot longer, but better late than never for the cavalry to come over the hill.

More money for mental health

There’s lots of good stuff out there for mental health these days, but to my mind it always has been, and still is, under resourced. This brings me to the second of the two pieces of eye-catching news – the decision on the police cutting back their routine attendance for mental health episodes. This new model has been described as potentially “dangerous” by mental health charities and experts. The Mind charity said the government’s focus on saving police time for crime fighting was “deeply worrying”, and that people could be “abandoned without support” if changes are not carefully implemented.

The government reflects society and I feel these days we seem to be collectively less compassionate. If the police aren’t going to attend, and I understand the reasoning, then at least more money should be spent on mental health specialists who can, which should probably always have been the case.

I believe you can’t turn your back on people. Mental health is not something that some people have, it’s something we all have. I am a health and safety specialist. I train people and I advise others on their methods and approaches and from the time I set up my business I have always focused on my staff’s mental well-being as well as their safety at work. Establishing sound and thoughtful foundations from which staff can flourish to the benefit of a business’s health is what I will focus on next time.

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