Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Take your partnersOn 1 Jul 2000 in Personnel Today Employeesof SMEs in one of the poorest boroughs in Britain are the target for a campaignpromoting health and safety at work. ByMarie Carroll Agovernment-funded project in Sandwell, West Midlands, is pushing occupationalhealth to the forefront of innovative practice, at the same time placing thediscipline firmly on the public health agenda.TheWorkwell project was spawned following Sandwell’s designation by the Governmentas one of the 11 first wave Health Action Zones, in April 1998. HealthAction Zones (HAZs) were established in response to the Government’s WhitePaper Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation1 which set out a plan improving healthand tackling inequalities through a partnership between individuals,communities and Government. HAZsfocus on issues that contribute toill-health, such as poor housing, as well as improving primary care anddeveloping integrated healthcare services2. They are areas identified as beingdeprived, where there are significant inequalities in health. SandwellSandwellis a borough of six towns, set in the heart of the West Midlands, which withthe three other boroughs of Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley form the BlackCountry.Ithas a population of 290,000 and as the seventh most deprived borough in Englandand Wales is an area of profound social and economic disadvantage. Sandwell hasa 26 per cent higher death rate than the national average and 15.1 per cent ofthe population have a long-term limiting illness. One-third of all householdshave a gross income of less than £5,500 a year, with 95.1 per cent of Sandwellresidents having no qualifications beyond school3. Many of these disadvantagesstem from Sandwell’s poor physical environment, the legacy of its heavily industrialisedmanufacturing past and post-war mass public housing4.Specifically,the Workwell project is an occupational health project primarily for those insmall- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – organisations employing less than250 employees and with an annual turnover of less than £27m, or a balance sheetof no more than £19m.Additionalfunding provides occupational health and safety services for GPs and dentists,and a bid to the Department of Health’s Back in Work programme also securedfunding that allowed the Workwell project to examine the way back pain ismanaged.Inaddition, the Workwell project will take into account initiatives announced inany forthcoming government strategies, such as Revitalising Health and Safety5and the Health and Safety Executive’s 10-year occupational health strategy6.The project may also be regarded as part of the health secretary’s vision formodernising the NHS occupational health services. His vision of a fast,convenient, preventative and curative service (NHS Plus)7 could be realised bythe project.TheWorkwell project launched its long-term strategy on 11 May in West Bromwich inthe heart of Sandwell. In forming the strategy, the occupational health andsafety needs in Sandwell had to be established. Available sources of data suchas self-reported ill-health statistics8, reportable injuries9, occupationalphysicians reporting activity10, local health care data11 and National HealthService Direct data12 were collated to this end. A business survey of 300 firmswas also undertaken to explore occupational health and safety needs.Apilot project was also conducted, involving eight companies. The findings gavean in-depth analysis of the occupational health and safety needs of a sample ofworkplaces typically found in Sandwell. A similar pilot study was conductedwith five general practices. Asillustrated in the table, manufacturing and retail/wholesale form the bulk ofbusiness activity. Some 99 per cent of these are SMEs, with most employing lessthan 25 people. There are 900 organisations, with a workforce of 50,000, manyof which are volunteers, involved in the voluntary and community sector withinSandwell15.Traditionally,SMEs are unresponsive to the concept of managing health and safety16.Therefore, a close working relationship was formed with the personal businessadvisers at the local Business Link to ensure the project team couldsuccessfully access this population. Afteran initial visit to the company, a workplace assessment was carried out on theiroccupational health and safety and environmental provision. Any healthpromotion activities in the workplace were also noted. The firms were thenissued with a prioritised action plan. All firms stated they would be makingpositive changes as a result of the Workwell intervention. Findings from thepilot also indicated the most effective means of gaining access to thispopulation.Occupationalill-healthAtlocal level, analysis of the data suggests back pain is one of the mostfrequently reported injuries caused at work in Sandwell. The evidence collectedin the pilot studies further supports this assumption, in that all of the firmsinvolved in the pilot identified back pain as an occupational concern.However,occupational diseases, are harder to quantify in Sandwell, due to the lack ofreliable data.InSandwell, five people died as a result of workplace accidents during 1997/98,with a further 1,059 accidents resulting in the employees requiring more thanthree days sick leave9. It is recognised that employees of smaller businessesare twice as likely to be killed or suffer a serious injury at work compared tothose working in larger businesses17. It is also suggested this may be as aresult of the different working cultures in SMEs as well as the riskattributable to the management of health and safety18.Basedon the existing evidence and work with the pilot companies, the long-termstrategy of the activities of Workwell project will be based around thefollowing four key target areas.1.Promoting best practice through partnerships: Workwell will formpartnerships with SMEs to promote managing good health in the workplace. 2.Modernising services: Workwell will coordinate and where necessary provideoccupational health advice and services to local enterprises. 3.Use the workplace to promote health: Workwell will use the workplace as aplatform to promote health and support the Government’s National ServiceFramework. It will establish an initiative to support the Sandwell MentalHealth Strategy in 2001. Workwell will also support initiatives at reducing theincidence of the key related problems outlined in the National ServiceFramework.Workwellwill also encourage healthy employer initiatives such as smoking cessation andalcohol management schemes.4.Target inequalities in vulnerable groups: Workwell will develop initiativesfor those who do not traditionally have access to occupational health advice,for example home workers and construction workers. The voluntary sector willalso be able to access these facilities.MarieCarroll is a Workwell OHN adviser at Sandwell NHS TrustReferences1Department of Health (1999) Saving lives: Our Healthier Nation. White Paper, TSO2Our Healthier Nation: Health Action Zones (2000)3Sandwell Health Authority (1997) A new deal for health in Sandwell? Planningfor a Health Action Zone. The 9th annual report of the director of PublicHealth. Department of Public Health, Sandwell Health Authority4Sandwell Training and Enterprise Council. (1999) Sandwell’s Position andProspects: An economic and labour market assessment 1999/20005Health and Safety Commission/Department of the Environment, Transport and theRegions (1999). Revitalising Health and Safety. Consultation document, London:Stationery Office6Health and Safety Executive (1998) Developing an occupational health strategyfor Great Britain. Discussion document DDE8, HSE7Alan Milburn MP, Health Secretary (2000). A healthier economy: the contributionof a modern NHS. LSE Health Annual Lecture8Health and Safety Executive (1998) Self reported work related illness in 1995.HSE Books9Health and Safety Executive (1999) Safety and enforcement statistics briefing1997/98 Midlands Region. HSE10University of Manchester (1999) Occupational physicians reporting activity,West Midlands 1996-1999. Unpublished11Sandwell Healthcare NHS Trust (1997). Unpublished.12Sandwell Health Authority (2000) Annual report. Sandwell Health Authority13Business Link Sandwell. Unpublished14National Online Management Information Service (1997) Annual Workplace Survey.(http://www.nomisweb.co.uk)15Catalyst Commissioning Service Agency (1999). Mapping the Voluntary SectorEconomy in Sandwell – An analysis of the sector as an employer. Unpublished16Marriott, R (1999). Safely Managed Enterprises. The Health and SafetyPractitioner October 1999. Hertfordshire: Miller Freeman Publications17Health and Safety Executive (1999). New research confirms that smallerworkplaces can carry bigger risks. Press release E016:9918Stevens, G (1999). Workplace injuries in small and large manufacturingworkplaces 94/95-95/96. Labour Market Trends January 1999 pp19-26 Related posts:No related photos.