BSIF: Occupational and Public Respiratory Health in the UK
The respiratory health concerns resulting from poor air quality have been on the political agenda in Europe throughout the last 40 years and recently, the issue has been receiving an even higher profile within the UK.
London blames poor air quality for many thousand premature deaths each year and in many cities throughout Europe, we have seen the introduction of initiatives seeking to control traffic volumes. The UK Government is attempting to address the issue through a range of measures and we are hearing much in the media about the possibility of introducing a diesel engine scrappage scheme to deter private motorists from vehicles that produce harmful nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.
While all of this is getting public attention, the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has published its ‘Tackling Workplace Respiratory Illness Report’ to maintain focus on the Occupational side of the problem.
It is estimated that in the UK, 2 million people are suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their current or past work. It is believed that 12,000 people die every year from work related respiratory illnesses. The Government has prioritised the prevention of premature mortality across the National Health Service with projects that focus on cancers, diabetes and heart disease, yet very little attention to date has been given to a major cause of illness and death; work related respiratory illness.
In 2012, The Health and Social Care Act in England gave local councils responsibility for public health spending – an area that includes occupational respiratory diseases. This represented a strategic change, and the BSIF commissioned the ‘Tackling Workplace Respiratory Illness Report’ to shed light on how local government might address this key area.
The rational for the 2012 Act was to place a new level of responsibility for public health with local authorities as they were now expected to take appropriate steps to improve the health of their population. The Act was designed to show that the Government sees local authorities as having a critical role at the local level, in ensuring that all relevant organisations are putting plans in place to protect the local population against a range of threats and hazards.
In creating the report, the BSIF conducted two Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) during 2015 and 2016 to ascertain what local authorities are doing to prevent or tackle work – related respiratory diseases. The FOI request asked councils to provide a figure for the amount spent and on what, from this budget, in combatting work related respiratory diseases in their areas.
The FOI was sent to 401 councils and only 217 responded! Of those who responded, only 8 councils reported allocating any funding to respiratory health, and just 4 stated that this was for work related respiratory diseases.
Most councils to date have focused the majority of this responsibility on promoting healthy practices through cancer awareness programmes, the promotion of healthy living and smoking cessation strategies.
The lack of funded strategies to combat ill health caused by work is concerning. Strategies and schemes that prevent workplace respiratory diseases stand as both important and effective ways to protect public health, preventing thousands of potential deaths. As of October 2016, the UK’s working population stood at almost 32 million, a significant proportion of the total population of 65 million. The health of these 32 million must be a priority for the public health system and society as a whole. Workers do not leave the public realm when they enter work.
The ‘Tackling Workplace Respiratory Illness Report’ illustrates many ways that local councils can access support in discharging their public health responsibilities. A key element to success is recognising that occupational health is a component of public health and should be treated as such.
http://videoworldpr.com/component/k2/itemlist/user/1013-2014-11-12-13-37-02/?start=60 The ‘Tackling Workplace Respiratory Illness Report’ can be downloaded from the BSIF website or by clicking here.
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