Changing the emphasis from workplace safety to health

When it comes to worker wellbeing, the historical focus has been around making workplaces safer – avoiding injury due to falling equipment, reducing injuries, and so on. However, we are now seeing a shift from general safety to concentrating more on employee health, especially the potential impacts on long-term health associated with working in hazardous environments.  

This is due, in part, increased awareness regarding the long-term health hazards associated with dust inhalation, with a CIPD survey finding that 47% of employers now think that employee wellbeing is directly linked to business performance. 

The Health and Safety Executive’s 2016/17 review indicated a changing emphasis towards health by demonstrating their priorities for the following 12 months, identified as establishing:  

A three-year health and work programme to reduce levels of a number of long-term health issues, including: 

  • work-related stress 
  • musculoskeletal disorders 
  • occupational lung diseases 

Reducing longer term health risks, including 880 inspections in the construction industry to tackle exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). 

A study compiled by the University of Birmingham and Health Exchange highlighted that improving employee health factors – which obviously have better long-term health implications – can also actually decrease the chances of workplace injuries due to increased employee awareness and performance. 

It has become increasingly clear that many working environments create hazards that have a long-term impact on employees, an impact that is not always immediately visible. While physical injury remains a serious risk in the mining and industrial workplace, respirable dust exposure is one of the greatest hazards experienced by miners and workers in a wide range of industries, even today, and can cause serious long-term health implications. 

Whilst in the past, real-time dust monitoring was both expensive and short lived, the latest generation of dust monitoring technology is both low cost and low maintenance, meaning that dust monitoring is becoming a primary technology to support organisations in their bid to deliver long term employee health alongside safety. 

With growing concerns around dust-related illnesses, real-time dust monitoring is essential to relieving these health concerns. While the latest generation of real-time dust monitoring technology provides the information to enable organisations to be far more sophisticated about balancing employee comfort with safety, it is just the start.