• Gavin Bates
  • 24 April 2012

Going green and staying safe?

It feels rather appropriate that this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work falls on the same day as Workers’ Memorial Day. On Saturday 28 April organisations such as the TUC and IOSH are running campaigns to remember those who have lost their lives or have been injured or disabled through accidents in the workplace, whilst also calling for better health and safety around the globe.

Whilst we should certainly remember those who have suffered in the past, the focus of our attention should be how we move forward amidst politically motivated consultations and ever changing regulations. As the TUC puts it, the purpose behind Workers’ Memorial Day is to ‘remember the dead: fight for the living’.

Whilst the Government may have weakened its commitment to a green future recently, globally it still sits very high on the political, social and economic agenda. So it is of distinct interest to those involved in both health and safety and environmental areas, specifically maybe to facilities managers, that the focus of this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work is the promotion of occupational health and safety in a green economy.

In the UK, we have seen improvements in certain areas of health and safety in the past few decades, but as technology and society’s needs move on so do the challenges we face in our workplaces. At present a great deal of attention is focused on risks in the construction industry, but as we move toward a more green economy, and the expansion of the industry quickens its pace, it seems certain that it will be here that the greatest risks to our workforce lie.

The fatality incidence rate in the waste industry is already one of the highest, whilst the rates of major injuries and over-three-day injuries per 100,000 employees are easily the worst (mining has a similarly poor record, although as this industry wanes then naturally green industries will thrive), far more so than in the agricultural or construction industries. These statistics are taken from the HSE website for reported injuries in 2010/11 and show, for instance, a rate of 1,887.1 over-three-day injuries in ‘waste collection, treatment and disposal activities’ compared to 396.7 in agriculture, 360.5 in construction and an average of 363.1 across all industries.

This is just one area of a new green economy and one that has been with us longer than some other areas such as renewable energy sources. These are still something of an unknown quantity and whilst it could be that newer technologies are inherently safer it could also be the case that they present more of a danger as there is less experience and knowledge of their implementation.

For me personally, protecting the planet and our environment, as well as establishing new, cleaner and more efficient energy resources, is a ‘no-brainer’ but we must also make sure that in our clamour to ‘save the planet’ we do not forget the lives of the individuals swept along in these new industries. There is little point developing wonderful new technologies to look after our environment if we don’t also develop safe working practices alongside them that look after us!

You can find out more information about World Day for Safety and Health at Work on the International Labour Organization website and there are also some useful reports on the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work website.