HSE needs to ground its research in the workplace

HSE needs to ground its research in the workplace

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Unions have long been critical of the failure of the HSE to regulate and enforce on occupational health risks.

For instance we have asked for specific regulations on stress, lower exposure limits on dust and silica, and for the removal of all asbestos in the workplace, but none of these have happened. Now that the HSE have agreed to prioritisethe important issues that are making people ill (stress musculoskeletal disorders and lung diseases), it is worth looking at how they get their advice on what particular health hazards they should be targeting and how to tackle them.

A couple of years ago the HSE set up an advisory committee called the Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC). This was tasked with producing scientific reports on workplace health issues. It was made up of a number of very prominent researchers and academics, and they have just published their first four reports. These are on stresssilicahealth issues of bakers and musculoskeletal disorders.

So how did this new group do? In terms of the reports, they are very readable and informative and, as far as I can tell, address the questions that were asked clearly and fully. They also show that the arguments that unions have been making for years around these issues are borne out.

My problem with them is, not what they say, but more what they don’t say. The report on bakers for instance is excellent, and makes it clear that current exposure limits are not working, not is the enforcement regime, but makes few specific recommendations. Likewise on silica, the report confirms what unions have said that silica can cause lung cancer in people who do not develop the disease silicosis, but makes no recommendation on the issue of the current limit, despite the fact that this limit was not set to prevent lung cancers (and is not even low enough to prevent silicosis).

Read more on the Stronger Unions website

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