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Direct Safety Solutions MD calls for more emphasis on employee's health

As the often-overlooked aspect of workplace health and safety, it’s high time that more emphasis was placed on employees’ health, says Jonathan Williams, Managing Director of Direct Safety Solutions.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘health and safety’ in relation to a workplace? To many of us, it may be hard hats, protective eyewear, reflective clothing and fire drills. While these sorts of things are crucial, they all fall under the remit of ‘safety’ – whereas a commitment to maintaining people’s ‘health’ at work is rarely associated with the phrase.

This is exactly what we at Direct Safety Solutions are seeing in the businesses we support – accident rates are on the decline, while instances of ill health and work-related medical complications are seemingly going the other way. This trend is backed up by data from the latest Health and Safety Executive report.  

This trend indicates the need for greater awareness and support for business owners to manage these less tangible hazards, that cause more unseen – yet still very serious – health issues.

Invisible threats

As well as tackling the more physical risks that they can see, business owners need to start thinking about and addressing the more ‘invisible’ threats to their people’s wellbeing. Some examples include:

 • Paint and oil fumes.

• Harmful gases generated by machinery.

• Silica and wood dust inhalation.

• Poor mental health.

The Health and Safety Executive, with their recent Dust Kills campaign, has done a brilliant job in raising awareness of the consequences of dust exposure, and the importance of effective control measures to improve the long-term health of those working in areas like construction. 

Many of the above risks could be seen as niche and industry-specific, but perhaps the largest, hardest to detect risk to the wellbeing of employees – regardless of work environment – is poor mental health.

Breaking the mental health taboo

As a business owner, offering support to your people suffering from poor mental health falls just as much within your responsibility as supplying safety equipment. It can be a very complicated area to navigate, which is why it may be beneficial for business owners to look externally when sourcing specialist mental health guidance and support for their people.

This support can include:

• Being helped to encourage open communication via 1-on-1 meetings with your staff.

• Being supplied with collateral to distribute among your workforce, containing information on mental health tools and resources.

• Getting help sourcing mental health first-aid training, which gives people the knowledge to spot possible signs of poor mental health in their colleagues and provide adequate support if necessary.

Mental health support can also extend to workplace stress; systems and other resources supplied by health and safety companies can contain stress and mental health management policies. This helps to build awareness and understanding throughout your business; they equip you with the knowledge on how to best support your people, whilst simultaneously educating your people on how they can best support themselves and others, should they need to. It’s a clear microcosm of how a business should approach all of its health and safety risks, putting the measures in place ahead of time so you can manage issues proactively, rather than reactively.

The future

As the Managing Director of a health and safety business, I hope the recent spotlight that has been shone on the importance of maintaining the long-term health of employees will start to normalise this topic and ingrain it into every-day, common practices. Just as people shouldn’t be subjected to preventable accidents and injuries at work, people also shouldn’t be subjected to work environments that cause preventable harm to their physical and mental health. 

Our job is to reinforce the brilliant levels of awareness generated by campaigns like Dust Kills and Mental Health Awareness Week to push the concept of ‘health’ into the same level of exposure as ‘safety’. Hopefully then we can start to flatten the upward curve of people suffering from work-related ill health, as we have seen happen to the numbers of people suffering from workplace accidents.

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