Er, health? That’s easy, there’s lots of stuff – check out the website.
Sure, sure – there’s plenty about protecting people from unhealthy conditions – rules, regulations, all kinds of stuff. Not a lot though, about KEEPING people well.
You mean workplace wellness?
Something like that – a practical dimension beyond work-related illness and injury.
Right, codes of practice for employers, protecting the workplace environment, dealing with stress, that kind of thing. Like it says on the website, “HSE aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health”.
Yes, yes, reducing hazards – but how about promoting and maintaining everyone’s health in the everyday?
You mean beyond hard hats and protective clothing, proper working conditions, that kind of thing?
Lots of us have “ordinary” jobs. We sit at desks, sometimes lots of us together. Health is important there too.
There’s plenty of procedures – about proper warmth and light, adequate ventilation, it’s all covered.
Well no, it’s not – what about protection from each other?
There’s guidelines for workplace confrontation, how to deal with bullying too.
Ah, but your colleague on the next desk sneezes, what then? It’s an open plan office – what goes around, comes around. Half the staff could come down with flu and there’s nothing to stop it.
They could all have jabs.
That’s not the point, every single one of us could have some kind of condition and we bring it into the workplace. Actually, most of us do have something, with all the challenges life throws at us, few of us are perfect.
You mean like a tummy upset, or something more serious?
Exactly, maybe a toxic bug brought back from holiday – nobody’s caught Ebola yet, but it could happen.
Unlikely though, the health services would pick that up first – besides, there’s plenty of info about handling infections at work.
Nobody picks up anything in the early stages. Many bugs have an incubation time of several weeks. Meantime they spread, through direct contact and breathing the same air. A whole office could go down without warning.
And there’s guidance for that, staying away from work, giving an illness time to recover.
Absolutely right. But how about the environment itself? There’s always the risk of re-infection. And what steps are ever taken to ensure everyone’s safe? Our own sloppy hygiene could bring us down, simply by being careless.
We are our own worst enemies. Most of us never wash our hands properly, so we pick up and transfer all kinds of nasties. We’re workaholics too, so we eat at our desks – munching food with unwashed hands on unclean desks – we’re asking for trouble.
We can regulate employers, but we can’t force workers to do anything.
A bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? They MUST wear special clothing, head covering and gloves when the job requires it, but nobody MUST wash their hands?
Employers must provide adequate washing and toilet facilities, it’s all legal.
Do us a favour, 95% of people don’t wash their hands properly – just a wriggle under the tap. And around 60% of us never even bother to wash our hands after using the loo – we’re all instant norovirus transfer machines.
You mean self-infecting?
Exactly, illness brought on by ourselves through our own carelessness. Where’s the health and safety in that? Which means we contaminate our own workplace too – bits of food, dirt, dust everywhere. Run your finger over your desk and there’s 10 million germs on there. Lots of fun if you’re starting a pregnancy, battling with IBS, or sniffing away from the TB you had as a child.
But all workplaces are cleaned out regularly, it’s an employer’s responsibility – part of duty of care.
A quick wipe and a vacuum and empty the bins? Not nearly enough. Very little gets cleaned beyond working surfaces – under the cupboards, behind the desks in the tangle of computer wires. No contractor would risk causing a system fault. And the air itself. Full of our own germs and everybody else’s too – ready to continue breathing in tomorrow.
You mean it’s unhealthy?
Just as hazardous as high tension electricity or dealing with asbestos – in fact worse, because we know those things are there and take precautions. But germs are invisible and there’s billions everywhere. We know they can make us ill, sometimes even kill us.
And we can protect ourselves against them?
Protection against germs
You bet, do your homework. Mist up any workplace with ionised hydrogen peroxide overnight after everyone’s gone. Next morning the whole place is safe, sterile and totally germ-free. No infections hanging around to bring anyone down.
Isn’t hydrogen peroxide hazardous?
Not when it’s ionised. That makes it so effective, it only needs to be a 6% solution. Your chemist sells the same stuff over the counter. Anyway, when the germs are dead, it reverts back to oxygen and water.
So proactively promoting health is possible?
Employers can buy the machines to do it themselves – or have somebody come in and “do” for them. Any enclosed space, completely sterile. Easy.
Do HSE know about this?
They ought to. So many of us are unhealthy and prone to casual infections, five years from now we’ll all be needing active health maintenance like this.
Works for me.
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