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Callaghan: Make Occupational Health a Priority

Chair of United Kingdom's Health and Safety Commission says occuaptional health initiatives need improvement.

"The 18 million working days lost each year from job-related illnesses shows how vital it is to improve occupational health," Bill Callaghan, chair of the United Kingdom''s Health and Safety Commission (HSC) said this week.

Callaghan was speaking in London at the launch of NHS Plus, a network in England of National Health Service (NHS) occupational health departments that sell occupational health services.

Behind the 18 million lost work days "are pain and suffering, and for many the loss of a job," Callaghan said. "That is why the Health and Safety Commission has made occupational health a priority." Last year, HSC launched the national occupational health strategy, "Securing Health Together," which is built on a partnership between industry, unions, government and health professionals.

"Action by employers is the key to improving the nation''s health at work. Looking after people''s health is good management and good medicine," he said.

Callaghan noted that musculoskeletal disorders, stress-related conditions, respiratory disease and deafness are the main work-related illnesses suffered each year. He revealed that NHS'' workplace health record is not exemplary. For example, nurses suffer twice the average numbers of musculoskeletal disorders and three times the average number of cases of work-related stress.

"It should be no surprise that we have targeted Health Services as a priority area for improvement," Callaghan said. "We have a major job ahead as the figures show, but the benefits that good occupational health services deliver less lost time, lower staff turnover, better jobs and fitter workers are critical to delivering improved health services for the public."

Progress is being made. One NHS Trust''s special project reduced the hours lost each year through musculoskeletal injuries from 6,720 to 192 in six years - the equivalent of 25 nurses at work every day. Still, Callaghan said, "Much remains to be done."

Callaghan praised the NHS Plus initiative and offered the full support of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive. "We look to you to extend your services; we want to see them available to all. We shall not reduce these figures by focusing on a minority or on the wrong people, and reducing health inequalities is a goal for all of us."

by Sandy Smith

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