Shouting about safety whilst whispering about health

occupational hygiene at finch

Occupational Hygiene at Finch.

Occupational health hazards don’t always get the attention that they merit.

For many years, companies have been ‘shouting about safety whilst whispering about health’, and whilst having a goal of zero accidents is laudable, wouldn’t it be better for the goal to be zero harm?

In their document ‘Health and safety at work – Summary statistics for Great Britain, 2021’* the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) gives the following stark statistics:

  • 13,000 deaths each year are estimated to be linked to past exposure at work, primarily to dust and chemicals.
  • Occupational lung diseases account for 12,000 of these deaths.
  • On average during the past three years, there have been an estimated 17,000 new cases of respiratory problems caused or made worse by work each year.

Let us think about just one of the occupational lung diseases included in those figures – occupational asthma.

Occupational asthma is associated with work-related exposure to any respiratory sensitiser.

Examples of materials which may cause occupational asthma (asthmagens) and working environments where they may be found include these:

Fish and shellfish proteins – Fishing, fish and shellfish processing, fish farming.

Latex – Manufacture of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), wearing of PPE.

Antibiotics – Human and veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturing, animal feed manufacturing.

Flour dust – Commercial and craft bakeries, food manufacturing, retail environments, restaurants.

Enzymes – Laundry detergent manufacturing, food and drink manufacturing, textile processing.

Chromium VI compounds – Surface engineering such as electroplating and welding of stainless steel.

Soybean dust – Farming, human and animal food manufacturing.

Wood dust, isocyanate glues and paints – Manufacturing such as window making and boat building.

The potential for exposure to these substances can occur during obvious work activities such as the manufacturing process, but also during cleaning and maintenance activities, the receipt of goods with damaged packaging, sampling and quality assurance activities and during machinery breakdown or emergency situations.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, 2002 (COSHH) require employers to assess the risk of employee exposure to asthmagens and, where exposure cannot be avoided, or the asthmagen substituted for less hazardous material, to control it to a level that is ‘As Low as Reasonably Practicable’ (ALARP). This must be done by means of engineering, process and administrative control measures, rather than the use of Personal Protective Equipment.

Occupational asthma cases must also be reported to the HSE under the requirements of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations, 2013 (RIDDOR).

Finch’s occupational hygienists can help you. We will work with you to help you identify what health hazards are present in your workplace and understand what risks they pose to your employees. We will identify where there are potential vulnerabilities in your control strategies and guide you towards practical and pragmatic solutions.

Over recent years, there has been an increased focus on health at work from regulators, employee organisations and unions as well as shareholders and customers.

Preventing occupational illness and disease before it happens is a sound investment for the long-term health and well-being of your employees and your business.

We have a team of occupational hygienists here at Finch who can help you with a multitude of issues including asbestos, ergonomics, chemical agents, legionella, occupational noise and vibration to name a few.

Don’t hesitate to contact Dr Steve Cowley and Morag McWilliam if you have any queries or just need some advice.

*Health and safety at work Summary statistics for Great Britain 2021. HSE, December 2021.

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