Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper

INTRODUCTION

  The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) recognises the value to people's health and well being that well managed work can bring. We note the government's increased focus on occupational safety and health (OSH) and its aim of improving access to competent occupational health advice and support, rehabilitation, return to work programmes and early interventions, as outlined in its Green Paper on proposed welfare reforms "A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work". The evidence that follows will also form the basis of the forthcoming IOSH response to the Green Paper, due for submission in April 2006.

   In our evidence, we would like to take the opportunity to highlight the key role of OSH practitioners in supporting employers and workers, helping to prevent injury and illness occurring in the first place and where it does occur, helping to bridge the gap between absence and a safe return to work, as part of a co-ordinated multidisciplinary approach. We would also like to draw attention to the need for much improved national occupational health awareness and service provision, outlining some important IOH work in this area. And finally, we would like to comment on the Green Paper consultation question "What else should we consider to give the right incentives to employers to provide increased health support to their workforce?" and emphasise the need for appropriate health and safety awareness training for those entering or re-entering the workplace.

1.  THE ROLE OF OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH PRACTITIONERS

  OSH practitioners help to protect and improve the health and Safety of workers and can give advice on absence management, reasonable adjustments and flexible working arrangements, helping those who have been ill or injured to remain in I return to or join the workforce as appropriate. Working closely with employers and workers, they can advise on practical solutions to prevent people being) made ill or injured by work, especially potentially at-risk groups, such as young, inexperienced or older workers, expectant mothers, migrant workers and people with disabilities and special needs. They are also involved in promoting health by using the workplace to communicate and share important health improvement messages, covering issues such as stress management, smoking cessation, fitness and healthy eating.

   In order to support those with illness or disability seeking to remain in/return to or join the workforce, we believe a co-ordinated multidisciplinary approach is needed, involving workers, GPs, managers, human resource officers, employment advisers, OSH practitioners, occupational health nurses and physicians and others. As the government's proposals to support people on incapacity benefit back into work and to increase the number of older workers in the workplace take effect, we believe OSH practitioners could also help provide mentoring or advocacy, assisting new entrants to settle safely into new working environments.

  However, with 35 million days lost last year to work-related injury and ill health and 2 million people suffering from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by work, we think a fundamental "sea-change" is needed in how well the country manages its workplaces, with everyone pulling in the same direction: government, employers, professionals, advisers and workers. As a nation, we must ensure that everyone understands how to protect and improve health and emphasise the message that good health really is good business. Competent advice is essential, as is a flexible and sensible approach to adapting workplaces and work arrangements to meet the needs of an ageing workforce, those managing illness; disability or caring roles and also, the needs of employers.

2.  NATIONAL OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH PROVISION

  We support the government's intention to tackle the enormous challenge of occupational health. although we hope that extending Pathways to Work nationally and introducing the Workplace Health Connect scheme will go some way to improving access to occupational health services; we believe long-term planning and resourcing is necessary. As research[229] indicates only 15% of UK firms employ OH support such as hazard identification, risk management, and provision of information and that applying a wider definition (to include modifying work activities, providing training on OH-related issues, measuring workplace hazards and monitoring health trends) only 3% of UK firms do so, we believe it'd vital that other support sources are made more widely available. We note that the Constructing Better Health scheme, a construction industry-led OH support pilot facilitated by the Health and Safety Executive/Commission, is currently testing a sector-specific model, providing a central access point for free OH services to constriction firms within the Leicestershire region. We believe early reports show positive impact and look forward to the project's evaluation, so lessons can be drawn regarding possible future delivery of similar services to other sectors and on a national basis.

  We are concerned that the former Downing Street adviser, Lord Layard has described mental health provision as "desperately under funded"—if the almost 40% of incapacity benefit claimants suffering mental illness are to be adequately treated and supported back into work, this lack of provision needs to be properly addressed.

  IOSH has long-called for increased national OH support and has been actively engaged in developing this area, with examples including:

    (a)  Organising workshops for professionals in support of the government's "Health, Work and Well being" strategy, to develop tools for facilitating early non-medical interventions and multidisciplinary working. This is a pioneering concept—initiated, led and funded by IOSH—in which all the major UK occupational safety and health professional bodies are collaborating to produce web-based OH toolkits. The purpose of these will be to provide essential information for occupational safety and health (non-medical) practitioners on key OH issues, such as musculoskeletal disorders, stress, inhalation hazards and skin disorders. The emphasis will be on preventing occupational ill health and on early recognition of problems and appropriate interventions.

    (b)  Recommending that the revised GPs curriculum ensures, adequate training in occupational health for all trainee GPs.

    (c)  Advising on the competence levels for advisers involved in the "Workplace Health Connect" initiative.

    (d)  Co-sponsoring research and distributing via our Branches new British Occupational Health Research Foundation guidance on occupational asthma and workplace interventions for people with common mental health problems.

    (e)  Supporting the launch of free guides for employers and professionals "Creating a healthy workplace".

    (f)  Participating in a workshop to explore development of a management tool for shift work sleep disorder.

    (g)  Facilitating distribution of the organisational stress assessment tool, developed by the Health Education Board of Scotland and the Health and Safety Authority (Republic of Ireland).

    (h)  Contributing to the development of the HSE stress management standards.

    (i)  Co-sponsoring and contributing to an Institute of Directors (IoD) guide Health and well being in the workplace.

    (j)  Supporting SMEs by the provision of free resources such as an interactive website <au0,1>www.safestartup.orq and leaflet, a risk management toolkit and free training and technical enquiry line access for Worker Safety Advisers, to assist their work with small firms.

    (k)  Participating in the government's long-term occupational health strategy Securing Health Together (SH2) Programme Action Groups.

    (l)  Producing and distributing a free OH guide "Professionals in partnership" in support of SH2.

    (m)  Providing professional development courses on a wide range of occupational health issues, including stress and musculoskeletal disorders.

    (n)  Setting up national and international "umbrella groups" for occupational safety and health professional organisations (POOSH, ENSHPO and INSHPO[230]) to share best practice.

  We note that the Department of Work and Pensions and Department of Health are soon to jointly appoint a National Director of Occupational Health. We look forward to this appointment and to working with the new Director. We hope this appointment will help ensure the effective implementation of the Health, Work and Well being strategy and help raise the profile, resourcing and co-ordination of occupational health across the country.

3.  INCENTIVES FOR EMPLOYERS TO PROVIDE HEALTH SUPPORT

  3.1  The following are suggested as a means of helping employers to understand and access available financial support for employing and rehabilitating people with temporary or permanent disabilities:

    (a)  To encourage more people to make use of appropriate tax relief, we believe the HSE information sheet "Tax rules and the purchase of occupational health support" (2004), could perhaps be retitled "Tax and NIC relief on adjustments, services and equipment provided for workers with disabilities", to give a better idea of its content.

    (b)  To clarify eligibility on capital allowances, we think it would be helpful if the HSE information sheet on tax could explain why only "qualifying hotels" (which requires definition) and industrial or agricultural buildings are eligible for capital allowances for money an employer spends on the fabric of the building eg fitting ramps or widening a doorway, and not other places of employment.

    (c)  To support choice in appropriate treatment options, we suggest that where employers are prepared to give financial assistance (in the form of a limited cash sum) to employees seeking private treatment (eg physiotherapy) for non work-related injuries, the employee should not be required to pay tax on this, as currently is the case. We feel that this is short-sighted and that provided receipts are obtained and submitted, such transactions should not penalise the employee, who is, after all, trying to improve their health and maintain their employability.

    (d)  To help communication on financial support, we suggest thel HSE "tax rules sheet" should cross-refer to the Jobcentre Plus section of the DWP website, on "Access to Work" grants and vice versa.

  3.2  In addition to publicising the "good health is good business' message and any possible insurance premium benefits, the following are suggested as legal and business drivers to encourage the increased provision of health support:

    (a)  Introduction of enforceable directors' health and safety duties; supported by the provision of practical guidance and an approved code of practice. IOSH is currently working in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive to produce improved guidance in this area

    (b)  Introduction of mandatory Operating and Financial Review, requiring appropriate inclusion of occupational health performance reporting

4.  HEALTH AND SAFETY AWARENESS TRAINING

  In respect to preparing people for the world of work, we believe it is essential that those entering the workplace for the first time, returning after a long-term absence, or embarking on a change of occupation, be given adequate health and safety awareness training before entering the workplace. IOSH emphasised the importance of this and discussed it in more detail in our response to the government's consultation on its White Paper, 21st Century Skills: Realising our potential (2003), please see <au0,1>www.iosh.co.uklcondocs



229   The Institute of Occupational Medicine report Survey of Use of Occupational Health Support (RR44512002) commissioned for the HSE. Back

230   POOSH = Professional Organisations in Occupational Safety and Health, UK; ENSHPO = European Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations; INSHPO = International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations. Back


 
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