Dr Karen McDonnell, CFIOSH, CBiol MIBiol, MIPD, AIEMA looks at past workplace disasters, how things have changed and what we have done to improve overall health and safety in the workplace.
I have had cause recently to do some background reading on the history of the UK’s mining industry in particular the Wellington Colliery Disaster of 11th May 1910 in which 137 men and boys lost their lives, 85 women were widowed and 260 children lost their fathers. This type of devastating event was however as I found out commonplace in the industry where the definition of a disaster at the time was where 5 or more people were killed how commonplace was death in the coalfields.
This led me to reflect on how far we have come in recent years in terms of improving our overall health and safety performance. However, every day there is the potential for something to go wrong within your business. Perhaps not on the same devastating scale as the Wellington Colliery Disaster, but the odds are, that with 1.2 million working people suffering from a work-related illness in GB, people you work with every day are being harmed by the work they do – someone’s father, mother, son, daughter, aunt, uncle… every day.
It is hard to imagine the impact of 137 fatalities on the community of Whitehaven in 1910, however we owe it to each of our co-workers to return home every day unharmed. How can you take the next steps to ensure people return home safe and healthy at the end of every day?
Consider the everyday things, those minor accidents, slips, trips, falls and cuts – how can you get ‘best value’ from understanding what went wrong and through learning from this safety failure , prevent the ‘everyday’ happening again?
Effective absence management is fundamental. If you don’t already encourage multi-disciplinary working to identify current and emerging issues linked to the ‘health’ of your organisation, it’s time to recognise the benefits. Within the 1.2 million working people suffering from a work-related illness there are 10s of thousands developing conditions (the causes of which are well understood), whether musculo skeletal disorders, noise induced hearing loss or psychosocial harm, every day.
The clues are there within the data collected every day. As practitioners we need to consider the evidence and not only develop a full understanding of the costs to society of everyday events but the value of this information in reducing the burden of injury to the GB economy.
It might be good to look at positive changes for the 60th anniversary of the Awards next year – and then the centenary.