Safety at work is something that everyone has to consider: from desk bound office workers right through to those handling dangerous chemicals or performing tasks at extreme heights or temperatures.

One of the most important considerations is the atmosphere around us. If the air that we breathe is in any way contaminated it could spell serious issues for our health.

The Health and Safety Executive has found that there are about 36,000 people who worked in the last year – and 141,000 who had ever worked – who have breathing or lung problems they thought were caused or made worse by work, with 14,000 new cases each year.

With those numbers in mind, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that yes, you are at risk of a breathing problem when you’re at work. And in some respects that is the case. Even a dusty desk or a stuffy office can contribute to sore throats and headaches in a low level sense.

Yet it isn’t all bad news. With this risk in mind, the Health and Safety Executive has what is known as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. That’s not the catchiest of names, granted, so these are generally known as COSHH.

This is a law that requires employers to control any substances that are hazardous to health. In essence it means that the employer is responsible for:

  • Carrying out a risk assessment to discover hazards
  • Identifying what needs to be done to prevent them becoming an issue
  • Making sure the right equipment is used and working practices followed
  • Providing training for employees
  • Monitoring their operation to make sure things are running smoothly
  • Having a back-up plan in case anything goes wrong

Does your business do all of that? If so, you can feel rest assured that the risk to your health is being mitigated. If not, your risk might be greater than necessary.

Communication is also vital. Companies that do best at protecting the health of their workers are the ones that are effective communicators – passing on the right information to the right people as and when necessary. They also listen to the concerns of their workers and understand them – taking note of things such as respiratory health problems, which might put people in greater danger.

Companies also need to be proactive. Some of the most common hazards come from paint, bleach and dust – hardly rare and exotic chemicals. It’s up to businesses to spot where such things are commonplace and investing in the right equipment to help, whether that be PPE such as masks and clothing or equipment that can remove dust from a busy working environment.

The best bosses realise that an unhealthy workforce is an unproductive workforce and care about their staff from both a pastoral and practical perspective.

The rules, however, are clear. Bosses have a responsibility to protect their employees and to do their bit to avoid adding to the sorts of statistics outlined above. They have access to all the information they need – with industry-specific direct advice sheets freely available – and should be able to make the risk of respiratory problems be as low as possible. With that in mind, you might well conclude that the quality of your boss is as important as the nature of your work when it comes to the risk you face.

 

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