British Safety Council: Something in the air
We know that the British Safety Council has a long history of campaigning for change. I also think it’s fair to say that for too long we have traded on our history and not done enough campaigning for vulnerable workers in the present.
Since my time here, approaching three years already, I have wanted to boost our campaigning activities so that we are making more of an impact to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of working people and we are making internal changes for the organisation to deliver that.
Of course, a greater commitment to campaigning leaves open the question of what we want to have an impact on. It is clear the challenges of the UK today are very different to the ones facing workers in James Tye’s day and we don’t need to outline the reasons here, but generally workers in the UK are ‘safer’ than they were 60, 30 or even 20 years ago. Recently, a greater concern for the health – including mental wellbeing – of workers has already shaped our campaigning efforts and will increasingly become the focus of our activities.
As a founder and ongoing supporter of Mates in Mind we have created an innovative approach to building in-company capacity to tackle poor mental wellbeing, initially for the construction sector. Mental wellbeing will be a key vulnerability as the structure and nature of work changes in the coming years. A physical health issue that is also not going away soon is pollution. This might also include poor air quality, plastic in our oceans or light pollution. There is also quite a debate on the health impacts of the electronic screen’s blue light, particularly on children’s health.
Pollution is a very modern issue as it goes to the heart of how highly developed or rapidly industrialising countries deals with waste and a greater recognition of our dependency on the planet’s finite resources. Our new campaign will be on air pollution. Launching in September, it will aim to reduce the amount of polluted air outdoor workers breath in, day after day, week after week. Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, recently called air pollution a public health issue and the Royal College of Physicians [Every Breath We Take] report, noted that outdoor workers are one of the at-risk groups.
It is not surprising. Standing all day, every day next to a busy road or sitting in a car or lorry in traffic, will mean you are exposed to high levels of gases like nitrogen dioxide or particulates, like those ones defined by their size (PM2.5) and not their type. There is evidence that prolonged exposure to such substances can reduce lung capacity, is linked to cancer, strokes, asthma, heart disease or dementia and has been responsible for thousands of early deaths.
Clearly, the evidence needs to improve to better show the links between these poor health outcomes and healthy adults who work outdoors. However, the precautionary principle means that we should act now rather than regret later.
The British Safety Council is picking up the recommendation by the chief medical officer in her recent annual report and making sure technology will be at the heart of the campaign. New technology, says Dame Sally Davies, “to improve health may be at our fingertips if we can better integrate socio-demographic, health and environmental data”.
Our campaign will do just that, develop a nationwide message about the importance of reducing the exposure of outdoor workers to air pollution. With King’s College, we will produce a mobile app that will make full use of London’s world-leading data on air pollution. The app will be a useful risk-management tool for employers and workers to jointly use it to minimise their exposure. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about the campaign or get involved. If you have people working outdoors in London, get in touch to be part of the app development and at the front of an exciting development to use modern data for health.