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Occupational Health (HSE guidance)

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Occupational health and hygiene focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace, including exposure to noise, vibration, hazardous substances and chemicals.

  • The aim of Occupational Health

    • The aim of occupational health is to prevent work-related illness and injury by:
      • encouraging safe working practices;
      • ergonomics (studying how you work and how you could work better);
      • monitoring the health of the workforce;
      • supporting the management of sickness absence.
    • An occupational health service might also:
      • Encourage employees to work with their employers to implement policies and ensure health and safety compliance
      • support health promotion and education programmes;
      • provide advice and counselling to employees around non-health-related problems;
      • Suggest employees provide their employers with information and ideas to make or allow reasonable adjustments to working conditions.
  • How is occupational health provided?

  • Preventing hazards and assessing risks

    • Aspects that require monitoring could include:
      • Working hours
      • Salary
      • Workplace Policies e.g. Maternity Leave
      • Noise or Vibration
      • Substances Hazardous to Health, e.g. solvents; fumes; dusts or biological agents
    • Risk Factors in the Workplace may lead to:
      • Accidents
      • Respiratory diseases
      • Hearing loss
      • Musculoskeletal diseases
      • Stress related disorders
    • Further information on all the above topics can be found on the HSE UK web site - Please follow the link at the bottom of this page.
  • Workplace Temperatures

    • Maximum / minimum temperature in a working environment
    • What should the temperature be?
      • Each year, especially when the weather is very hot or cold, we receive numerous calls from employees and employers as to what the maximum / minimum temperature should be.
      • Unfortunately there is no straight forward answer that would encompass all different types of working environment.
      • A 'minimum' temperature for workrooms of at least 16ºC (62ºF) if the job is sedentary is recommended. If much of the work involves severe physical effort, then this temperature changes to 12ºC (56ºF).
      • A 'maximum' temperature is not recommended as once again it depends on the work involved. Catering establishments are notoriously 'hot' places.
    • How to ensure comfortable working temperatures
    • Some simple ways to ensure thermal comfort in hot weather:
      • 1. Ensure that windows can be opened (screened / filtered if necessary)
      • 2. Shade windows with blinds or reflective film
      • 3. Provide fans, e.g. desk, pedestal or ceiling mounted
      • 4. Allow sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or to cool down
    • Some simple ways to ensure comfort in cold weather:
      • 1. Provide adequate heating in the workplace or local heating such as temporary heaters
      • 2. Reduce draughts
      • 3. Provide insulated duck boards or other floor covering or special footwear, where workers have to stand for long periods on cold floors
      • 4. Provide the appropriate type of protective clothing.
  • Noise and vibration

    • Noise at work
      • Hearing loss caused by work is preventable but once your hearing has gone it won't come back.
      • Damage can cause loss of hearing ability and people may also suffer a permanent sensation of ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.
      • Hearing loss caused by exposure to noise at work continues to be a significant occupational disease. Some 17,000  people in the UK suffer deafness, tinnitus or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise at work.
      • There are many practical, cost-effective ways of protecting yourself and your workers.
      • Factors that contribute to hearing damage are noise levels and how long people are exposed to the noise, daily or over a number of years.
      • The most efficient and effective way of controlling noise is by technical and organisational means that protect workers at source, eg changes in process, reducing vibration (damping) and reducing time spent in noisy areas.
      • Health surveillance or hearing checks are vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.
    • Hand-Arm Vibration
      • HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent.
      • HAVS is serious and disabling, and nearly 2 million people are at risk.
      • Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks.
      • The costs to employees and to employers of inaction could be high.
      • There are simple and cost-effective ways to eliminate risk of HAVS.
      • The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations focus on the elimination or control of vibration exposure.
      • The long-term aim is to prevent new cases of HAVS occurring and enable workers to remain at work without disability.
      • The most efficient and effective way of controlling exposure to hand-arm vibration is to look for new or alternative work methods which eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration.
      • Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.
  • Silicosis (lung disease)

    • What is Respirable crystalline silica (RCS)
      • RCS  is found in stone, rocks, sands and clays.
      • Exposure to RCS over a long period can cause fibrosis (hardening or scarring) of the lung tissue with a consequent loss of lung function. Sufferers are likely to have severe shortness of breath and may find it difficult or impossible to walk even short distances or up stairs. The effect continues to develop after exposure has stopped and is irreversible. Sufferers usually become house- or bed-bound and often die prematurely due to heart failure.
      • Acute silicosis is a rare complication of short-term exposure to very large amounts of silica. This condition is life-threatening and associated with very significant clinical consequences.
      • Silica may also be linked to lung cancer. Precautions taken to control the risk of fibrosis will serve to control the risk of lung cancer. Workers with silicosis are at an increased risk of tuberculosis, kidney disease and arthritis. Exposure to RCS may also cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    • Occupational risks
      • Occupations with exposure to RCS include: quarrying, slate works, foundries, potteries, stonemasonry, construction (when cutting or breaking stone, concrete or brick), and industries using silica flour to manufacture goods.
      • Different types of stone contain different amounts of silica.
      • sandstone, gritstone, quartzite
      • more than 70%
      • concrete, mortar
      • 25% to 70%
      • shale
      • 40% to 60%
      • china stone
      • up to 50%
      • slate
      • up to 40%
      • brick
      • up to 30%
      • granite
      • up to 30%
      • ironstone
      • up to 15%
      • basalt, dolerite
      • up to 5%
      • limestone, chalk, marble
      • up to 2% (but these can contain silica layers
      • Respirable crystalline silica particles are produced during many work tasks, including sandblasting, mining, rock drilling, quarrying, brick cutting, glass manufacturing, tunnelling, foundry work, stone working, ceramic manufacturing and construction activities.
    • Controlling the risks
      • In Britain, RCS exposure has a workplace exposure limit (WEL), which contains exposure below a set limit, preventing excessive exposure. The WEL for RCS is 0.1 mg/m3 expressed as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Exposure to RCS is also subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).
      • There were 95 cases of silicosis in 2007 and 85 in 2008 reported from the Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit (IIDB) scheme. There were 14 deaths from silicosis reported in 2006 and 7 in 2007.
      • Health surveillance for silicosis should be considered for workers who are involved in high-risk occupations, including construction, foundry work, brick and tile work, ceramics, slate, manufacturing, quarries and stonework. Where workers are regularly exposed to RCS dust and there is a reasonable likelihood that silicosis may develop, health surveillance must be provided.
    • Why does it matter? Case study
      • Video case study:  Terry the former stoneworker suffering with silicosis
      • Dr David Fishwick interviews Terry who suffers from silicosis after being exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) at work. Terry worked for over 30 years with different types of stone. He has worked with marble and in recent years with sandstone containing 90% crystalline silica.  He has developed silicosis - a serious respiratory condition that will almost certainly shorten his life after breathing in RCS.  Silicosis can develop in workers exposed to RCS in a number of industries including construction, stone working, quarrying, brick making and ceramics.  
  • Moving and handling - Musculo-Skeletal Disorders (MSDs)

    • MSDs include injury and pain to backs, joints and limbs which can affect your quality of life. Do the right thing and protect your workers from work-related MSDs.
    • How to prevent manual handling injuries?
      • In simple terms, the main thing is a risk assessment, though there are other considerations: Firstly, does the load need to be moved at all?
      • If so, can it be moved mechanically? For example by using a handling aid, such as a pallet truck, an electric or hand-powered hoist, or a conveyor? Advice on the many different types of lifting and handling aids is contained in Making the best use of lifting and handling aids .
      • If manual lifting is the only option then there are a number of things that can be done to reduce the risk, including;
        • 1. making the load smaller or lighter and easier to lift,
        • 2. breaking up large consignments into more manageable loads,
        • 3. modifying the workstation to reduce carrying distances, twisting movements, or the lifting of things from floor level or from above shoulder height,
        • 4. improving the environment - e g better lighting, flooring or air temperature can sometimes make manual handling easier and safer,
        • 5. ensuring the person doing the lifting has been trained to lift as safely as possible.
  • Guidance for Display Screen Equipment users

    • Self Assessment Checklist
      • The purpose of this form is to identify those employees who would be considered to be 'Users' of Display Screen Equipment (DSE) i.e. computer users, so that the employer can comply with the Health and Safety at Work (General) (Guernsey) Ordinance, 1987. 
      • It is also designed to help the User identify whether or not some of the most common problems arising from DSE use are present in their workstation or working arrangements.
    • The most common risk factors arising from DSE use are:
    • Musculoskeletal problems
      • These range from temporary fatigue and discomfort to chronic aches, pains and debilitating soft tissue disorders.  Parts of the body affected include the wrists, fingers, arms, shoulders and back.  Musculoskeletal problems are caused by poor or static posture, such as sitting for long periods without adequate lumbar support for your back, holding your arms and wrists in an awkward position whilst keying or using the mouse because your chair is not adequately adjusted, not taking sufficient breaks from screen work.
    • Visual fatigue
      • Visual fatigue can be caused by such factors as poor adjustment of screen brightness and contrast controls, an unstable or flicking image on the screen, glare reflected on the screen, insufficient lighting to read source documents, concentrating for prolonged periods.
    • Stress
      • This can be caused by the user having little or no control over their work content or the pace they work, excessive work loads, tight deadlines, repetitive or monotonous tasks.
    • Basic requirements for workstations
      • These are some basic requirements for setting up a workstation so that it promotes good posture and safe working practices:
      • The Chair should be capable of adjustment of the seat height, backrest and backrest tilt.  The backrest should offer adequate lumbar support, which should be able to be adjusted to suit the individual user.  The seat height should be adjusted so that the user can sit with their shoulders in a relaxed position and their elbows at a 90-degree angle, with the upper arms vertical and forearms horizontal whilst keying and using the mouse.  Hands should just rest on keyboard, in a neutral position (flat) avoiding excessive flexion (wrist bent down), extension (wrist bent up) or deviation of the wrists (turning left and right).  The mouse should be positioned so that the user can operate it whilst maintaining their elbow at 90-degree angle.  There should be space in front of the keyboard for the user to rest their hands in between keying.
      • The Screen should be positioned directly in front of the user and be at a height so that the user's line of vision is approximately 5 cm from the top of the screen.
      • The chair seat should have sufficient depth to accommodate the user without pressure on the backs of the thighs or knees.  The angle of the seat should enable the user to sit with their hips raised slightly above their knees, so that their pelvis is rotated forward thereby helping the spine to maintain its natural 'S' shaped curve.  The user's feet should be able to rest flat on the floor or be provided with a footrest.
      • There should be sufficient space on the work surface to accommodate any equipment or items the user may need to perform their job.  There should be sufficient space under the desk or workstation for the user's legs to enable them to change position as required.
      • It is vital that Computer users take regular breaks from screen based work, stretch and reposition in order to avoid excessive static loading of their muscles and tendons, which leads to fatigue and upper limb disorders.  It is important to take breaks before fatigue sets in, otherwise there will be insufficient time to recover.  The HSE recommends a five minute break every hour, as a minimum. The User should also take frequent mini breaks from viewing the screen by focusing on something different from the screen in order to avoid visual fatigue.
    • More information is available in the HSE's booklet "Working with display screen equipment (DSE)" available from the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg36.pdf 
    • Eyesight Tests for DSE Users
      • The employer has a duty to provide an eyesight test, or cost towards an eye test, for employees who habitually use display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal working activity.
      • The maximum amount of money that can be claimed for an eyesight test should be set out in the employer's human resources policies, together with any entitlement for part reimbursement of any glasses or corrective lenses used exclusively for DSE. Users have the choice of using the employer's nominated Opticians or their own optician.
    • Self-assessment checklist for DSE Users
      • To assist employers in assessing the workstation, the employee should complete the self-assessment give it to their manager, who will put in place measures to address problems or arrange a more detailed assessment by a competent DSE assessor.
  • Wellbeing at work - work-related stress

    • Excessive pressure and demands at work can cause stress. This can lead to chronic physical and mental health conditions. Do the right thing and protect your workers from work-related stress.
    • You have a legal duty to protect workers from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. You can use these examples to help you with your stress risk assessment, or alternatively find out more about HSE's organisational approach to preventing work-related stresss, the Management Standards.
    • What is stress?
      • HSE defines stress as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them'.
      • Employees feel stress when they can't cope with pressures and other issues. Employers should match demands to employees' skills and knowledge. For example, employees can get stressed if they feel they don't have the skills or time to meet tight deadlines. Providing planning, training and support can reduce pressure and bring stress levels down.
      • Stress affects people differently - what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether an employee can cope.
      • There are six main areas of work design which can effect stress levels. You should manage these properly. They are:
        • 1. demands
        • 2. control
        • 3. support
        • 4. relationships
        • 5. role
        • 6. change
      • Employers should assess the risks in these areas to manage stress in the workplace.
    • Signs of stress
      • Stress is not an illness but it can make you ill. Recognising the signs of stress will help employers to take steps to stop, lower and manage stress in their workplace.
    • Protecting employees
      • To protect employees from stress at work, employers should assess risks to their health. Example stress risk assessments may help employers in small businesses.
      • You may need to develop individual action plans for employees suffering from stress.
      • Employers may also find HSE's Management Standards helpful. The standards help identify and manage the six causes of stress at work.
    • Help for employees
      • If employees feel stressed at work they should talk to someone, for example their manager, trade union representative, GP or occupational health team.

Useful Links

Downloads

Health and Safety at Work (General) (Guernsey) Ordinance 1987 as amended - version May 2016 Self Assessment Checklist for Display Screen Equipment Users

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