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A healthy outlook…

I always looked forward to reading Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Chair’s Blog’. Now, as Interim Chair, I’m writing one myself.

It would be wrong to start without thanking Judith. In her eight and a half years as Chair, she drove change not just within HSE but in the world of work as well. Her focus on ensuring regulation protected the workforce and supported good and efficient business has been recognised at home and abroad. We heard Judith’s voice coming through in her blog, and if you haven’t already I encourage you to read her previous posts, which are available on the website.

This particular blog, given my NHS background, is about health.

Each year more than one million people in Great Britain report suffering from a health condition related to their work activity, and around 13,000 people die from past exposures to harmful substances at work.

In January, hundreds of people from across industry, the voluntary sector, trade unions and fellow regulators joined the Helping Great Britain work well engagement events held across England, Scotland and Wales. As a participant, I was hugely impressed by the commitment and determination to make what is already one of the world’s best health and safety records even better.

One of the six key strategy themes that took front and centre in discussions was the pledge to highlight and tackle the burden of work-related ill-health. All too often organisations focus on safety while health takes the back seat. Both are important, but I want to turn up the volume on health, without reducing it on safety.

More than anything, I’d like to see businesses and organisations, large and small, recognise the costs associated with ill health from factors at work and the importance of focusing on early prevention. I’ll be doing my upmost to ensure we at HSE can support and enable them to do this.

Our ambition must focus on the reduction in the incidence of occupational disease, which includes conditions ranging from cancer and other long-latency diseases to stress and musculoskeletal disorders. The importance of health at work needs to be part of the dialogue we all have as stakeholders committed to helping Great Britain work well. It affects all of us - welders and bakers, hairdressers and health professionals, hospitality and construction workers.

We have already developed some really successful partnerships to deliver the substantial change in behaviour that will be required. To name just two, I recommend taking the time to read about the Occupational health provision  for the London Olympics and the partnership work on reducing occupational asthma outlined in the Helping Great Britain work well strategy document.

Tackling work-related ill health is a big task with no single solution. The more we realise that there are things we can do which will make a difference, the more chance there is of making the progress needed. And we need to make progress, not least for the sake of those at risk.