Autumn — the season of health and safety action

Publication date

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Approval date

As 2018 draws to a close, a number of key health and safety awareness days are in the industry diary. It’s not too late to run an awareness or action campaign in your organisation, reports Jon Herbert.

Early autumn sees a number of urgent action calls across Europe and in the UK to improve safety and health at work. These range from Stoptober, to the very specific Fire Door Safety Week 2018, to the comprehensive European Week for H&S at Work 2018.

The doors

These are not ordinary, humble doors. As the organisers of Fire Door Safety Week 2018 from 24 to 28 September explain, the fire door is an engineered safety device. Some three million are installed each year in the UK, most made from timber.

Because they are on the fire defence frontline, the correct specification, maintenance and management of fire doors can mean the difference between life and death. But in practice fire doors are often neglected, downgraded in specification, mismanaged throughout their service life, propped open so that they can’t function, damaged and generally taken for granted.

Fire Door Safety Week aims to raise awareness of the fire door’s absolutely critical passive protection role when there is a fire — which could be at any time.

The week is also designed to encourage building owners and users to check the operation and condition of all fire doors regularly, reporting any that are substandard. At the same time, there is an emphasis on the need to engage with and educate people. Everyone who uses, or is protected by, fire doors must be able to understand not only their importance but also how they function.

Five-step fire door check

Fire Door Safety Week promotes a five-step safety check list, as follows.

  1. Check for certification — there should be a label or plug on the top or side of doors certifying that it is a fire door. You may need to use either a mirror, or a smartphone’s selfie camera function, to check awkward angles. If no label is found, this should be reported to the responsible person.

  2. Check the gaps — gaps around doors should be consistently less than 4mm when closed. A £1 coin is roughly 3mm. Gaps under doors can be slightly larger. As a rule of thumb, if you can see light the gap is too big. There should also be no damage to either the door or frame. Smoke and fire can travel through large gaps.

  3. Check the seals — intumescent seals which expand with heat around doors and frames should not be damaged and are vital to the fire door’s performance. Damage or poor maintenance should be reported and action taken.

  4. Check hinges — three or more hinges should be fixed firmly with no missing or broken screws. Again, omissions should be reported.

  5. Check fire doors close properly — open doors half way and let them close by themselves. They should close onto the latch correctly.

Remember, fire doors only work when they are closed.

European Week for Safety and Health at Work

Running from 22 to 26 October, the 2018 week focuses on the risks of exposure to dangerous substances.

This year, hundreds of awareness-raising events are being planned across the EU and beyond by the European Agency of Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), including film screenings, social media events, conferences, exhibitions and training sessions (healthy-workplaces.eu).

According to EU-OSHA, dangerous substance risks are more common than most people realise and can occur in almost all workplaces. The definition of a dangerous substance is any solid, liquid or gas with the potential to damage the safety or health of workers through inhalation, skin penetration or ingestion. This can also be linked to acute and long-term health issues.

Examples include respiratory diseases, such as asthma, rhinitis, asbestosis and silicosis, plus harm to inner organs like the brain and nervous system. Additional examples are skin irritation and diseases, but also occupational cancers, such as leukaemia, lung cancer, mesothelioma and cancer of the nasal cavity.

In addition, the presence of dangerous substances can raise the risk or fires, explosions, acute poisoning and suffocation.

Survey results

EU-OSHA’s second European Survey of Enterprises on New Emerging Risks (ESENER-2) shows that dangerous substances are most prevalent in construction, manufacturing and agriculture. It found that 38% of European enterprises have dangerous chemical, or biological materials, in the workplace, making it vital for risks to be identified and managed.

Even so, there is still a widespread lack of awareness, with little or no progress in reducing worker exposure in recent years. The proportion of employees reporting exposure to chemicals for at least a quarter of their working time has not changed since 2000 and remains around 17%. This must improve to ensure both worker safety and health and the economic success of businesses and society, says EU-OSHA.

The business case for occupational health and safety

The business case for investing in occupational safety and health will also be stressed during the awareness week. The point will be made that enterprises committed to creating a prevention culture will reap rewards in the long run.

Extending this argument, the poor workplace management of dangerous substances not only puts workers at unnecessary risk, but also leads to significant direct costs to businesses and health systems. The example often quoted is of workplace exposure to carcinogens which costs an estimated €2.4 billion across Europe each year. Compensation claims from workers whose health has been adversely affected can also run into hundreds of thousands of euros per claim.

Other businesses benefits are said to include higher levels of productivity from more motivated workers, a reduction in absenteeism and costs associated with worker ill health, plus lower staff turnover. These in turn, make businesses more competitive and successful.

Key dates for health and safety this autumn

24–28 September is Fire Door Safety Week. See above for details.

29 September is World Heart Day, which focuses on heart health through getting active, eating more healthily and giving up smoking.

From 1 October is Stoptober, Public Health England’s 28-day mass stop smoking campaign. A wealth of resources is available for organisations and individuals. For help on a smoking cessation campaign, see this week’s feature Help workers stop the smoking habit.

1 October is International Day of Older Persons. By 2050, more than 20% of the world’s population will be over 60. The Day looks at ways of tapping into the talents and contributions of older people and supporting their human rights.

1–5 October is National Work Life Week. It is an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on wellbeing at work and work–life balance. Employers can use the week to provide activities for staff, and to showcase their flexible working policies and practices.

10 October is World Mental Health Day. World Mental Health Day 2018 will focus on Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World. The aim here is to begin a conversation and start to address the increasing number of reasons why it is more difficult to grow up healthy, happy and resilient.

22–26 October is European Week for Safety and Health at Work. See above for details.