Health and Safety - What's the Difference?

Health and Safety - What's the Difference?

04th October 2016

Since the Health and Safety at Work Act was passed in 1974 here in the UK there’s been a fundamental change relating to health and safety in the workplace in the attitudes of employers and workers.  We’ve seen a steady drop in the figures when it comes accidents in the workplace and the figures for fatalities have undergone a steady reduction so that Britain is now one of the safest places to work, whether in the construction industry or any other sector.  The construction industry, however, by its very nature remains one of the riskiest sectors in which to work, particularly when it comes to working at height.  Falls from a height remain one of the leading causes of severe, life-changing injuries or deaths so there’s no room for complacency.  Today we’re going to take a look at the difference between health and safety in a bid to understand why it’s can be such a challenge to understand the impact of health failings, which are not always as obvious as safety failings.

Safety failings are much more visible in statistics because the effects are instantly measurable and immediate – for example, a fall from height can cause severe injuries or even death.  The visibility of injuries that result from safety failings makes it much easier to change attitudes and behaviour in the workplace – any employee who has witnessed a workmate suffer a head injury due to a falling object is likely to remember the incident and ensure that he/she wears protective headgear.

However, when it comes to comprehending the impact of health failings, it’s a different story.  Most health failings will result in an “invisible” effect.  In the construction industry alone, there are 3.500 fatalities each year that are the result of exposure to hazardous substances that are present every day in construction activities.  For example woodwork dusts, s  tainless steel welding fumes, solder and colophony fumes.  That’s not even taking into the account the very real dangers when the most rampant of invisible killers, asbestos, is present in the atmosphere, as it so often is during refurbishment and remodelling projects.  

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics from 2014/2015, while there were 611.000 work related injuries, a massive 1.2 million people suffered from work-related illnesses.  While there are plenty of safety signs on construction sites which remind everybody that employees must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including safety helmets, protective footwear and high viz vests, it can be just as important to let employees know that they should be wearing equipment to monitor their exposure to dangerous construction dusts, fumes or other respiratory hazards.  

Without regular monitoring of the workforce it is more difficult to demonstrate that there have, in fact, been improvements in combatting these “invisible” health hazards.  The introduction of regular monitoring will allow health risks to gain a similar amount of attention as safety risks and lead to an improvement in employee welfare.  ISO45001 will be published in June 2017 in order to raise awareness of occupational health and the dangers of long term exposure to both dust and noise.