Strategy in Workplace Health
One of the key objectives in the Authority’s Strategy 2016-2018 is an increased focus on health and wellbeing. This has come about for a number of reasons:
- Recent Central Statistics Office (CSO) Quarterly National Household Surveys and Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reports citing more absence due to work related illnesses than accidents at work.
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and work related stress (WRS) are stated as major causes of absence on Department of Social Protection (DSP) Illness Benefit (IB) certificates by general practitioners (GPs).
- Reflects similar developments in other European countries.
The increased focus on workplace health and wellbeing will be achieved over the 3 year period of the strategy in a number of ways:
- Increased training and involvement by inspectors in areas such as ergonomics and manual handling (MH) risk management, respiratory dust control and sun protection for outdoor workers.
- Continued development of occupational health section of the HSA website.
- Involvement of inspectors dealing with psychosocial issues such as work related stress (WRS) and bullying.
- Continued guidance on management of manual handling and MSDs in different sectors.
- Manual handling projects in sectors such as construction, agriculture and manufacturing.
- Gathering data on work related illnesses from sources such as CSO, ESRI and DSP.
The Authority cannot achieve this strategic objective on its own. For this reason it supports and is involved with a number of organisations as follows:
- Financial support annually to The Health and Occupation Research (THOR) ROI network by physicians in Ireland. This involves occupational physicians, chest and skin specialists and GPs reporting cases of occupational illness online to the University of Manchester. An annual report is produced showing the number of new cases, the total number of cases since reporting commenced in 2005 and comparisons between ROI, GB and NI.
- Membership of the across Government Health Ireland (HI) steering group and workplace subgroup.
- Membership of the board of the Anti-Bullying Centre in Dublin City University.
- Membership of Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)/National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) steering committee on workplace behaviours study.
- Membership of European committees involved in MH, psychosocial risk and occupational illnesses.
The increased focus on workplace health should bring about a change by employers in how they manage health. Many employers now have the knowledge and tools to manage safety in their workplaces and the results are evident in reduced accident rates. Health is more difficult as it is not as visible as safety and workplace illnesses tend to develop over long periods of time.
Employees develop back problems, repetitive strain injuries, respiratory illnesses and illnesses associated with stress over many years. However once developed these illnesses tend to result in longer absences from work than accidents and long term health problems that don’t go away easily. The thinking has to change, so that workplace health is proactively managed and illnesses prevented and employees can remain productive and in good health up to and beyond retirement.