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Workplace Ergonomics and Mental Health

Key sessions in focus at Third BOHS Worker Health Protection Conference

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The 3rd BOHS Worker Health Protection Conference, co-organised by The Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection (BOHS) and Messe Frankfurt Middle East, will turn the spotlight on key issues and trends impacting worker health and safety across regional workplaces.

Taking place from 25-28 September 2016 at Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi, the four-day forum comprises a two-day conference book-ended by BOHS-certified professional development courses, and will deliver a line-up of more than 25 high-profile international and regional speakers.

Among these is John Connell, the Occupational Health Advisor at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare Saudi Arabia, who will speak about the relationship between mental health and occupational hygiene, and how ‘psycho-social’ hazards such as stress, anxiety, and depression can affect not only psychological ill-health, but also inevitably, several physical symptoms, such as heart disease, infections, and skin conditions.

He said this has a doubly harmful effect on people’s occupational fitness and general well-being, impacting upon not only their working functionality, but also their everyday living amenity.  “It’s therefore important that Industrial or Occupational Hygiene covers psycho-social hazard assessment as part of its totality of hazard groups, together with chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic factors,” said Connell. “That way we can identify causative factors, measure their strength and impact and co-work with management to devise preventative and proactive measures which can be put in place to prevent or mitigate the factors which most lead to mental ill-health at work, be they organisational set-ups, shift patterns, company cultures, work overload or underload, training and support or the lack of them.”

Connell said organisations tend to focus on the ‘big beasts’ of workplace hazards, especially those of chemical (such as solvents), physical (noise), and biological (anthrax) in nature, since these have over the years been the main challenges to not allowing the working environment and its activities to affect the employee adversely.

“But much of this work needed to be done when those parts of the world which pioneered or adopted Industrial Hygiene (IH) or Occupational Hygiene (OH) – mainly the West and other regions such as the Gulf and parts of Asia – had economies based on the heavy industries like oil, coal, steel, and textiles,” added Connell.

“There was a quantum shift in the type of industries most prevalent in the West, especially by the 1980s, and these manufacturing processes suffered decline, to be replaced eventually by service businesses, such as insurance, finance, call-centres, distribution and hospitality.

“Consequently, it has taken some time for IH or OH to ‘catch up’ with the ‘new industrial order’, in which management referrals to OH are now mostly related to two main occupational disease groups, namely musculoskeletal – i.e. ergonomics – or mental health.”

Joanne Crawford, Head of Ergonomics and Human Factors at the UK-based Institute of Occupational Medicine, is another speaker at the 3rd BOHS Worker Health Protection Conference.  She said workplace absences due to musculoskeletal or mental health issues are widely prevalent.

“The most common self-reported reasons as to why people are absent from work in the UK are due to musculoskeletal problems or stress, anxiety and depression,” said Crawford who, on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF),  will talk about understanding the risks from the processes in relation to ergonomics.

“This was estimated in 2014 to result in the loss of 31 million work days in the UK. At a European level, 44 million workers have a musculoskeletal disorder estimated to cost €240 billion or two per cent of the GDP.” Crawford added: “When we look at musculoskeletal problems, these are not always caused by accidents, but rather the cumulative effect of poor work design such as high force requirements, high levels of repetition or poor postures having to be adopted.  They often result in extended periods of absence and if no change is made, can re-occur.”

The 3rd BOHS Worker Health Protection Conference is slated to be the largest and most comprehensive edition yet, thanks to expanding interest in the Middle East for enhancing workplace safety and health.  More than 125 international delegates are expected to attend, while a co-located exhibition will showcase the latest innovations and solutions to combat issues related to employee health and wellbeing.

“The wellbeing of the worker in today’s workplace is paramount and affects every field of industry and commerce today,” said Ahmed Pauwels, CEO of Messe Frankfurt Middle East. “The 3rd BOHS Worker Health Protection Conference highlights crucial issues impacting work-related safety and health, and provides key insights into providing effective solutions.”

Steve Perkins, the CEO of BOHS, added: “The 3rd BOHS Worker Health Protection Conference provides an opportunity to pass on the vital messages of worker health protection to a wider audience in the increasingly important and growing industrial region of the Middle East.”

“I believe that the science-based expertise of BOHS and our partners will be of value to regional professionals in addressing both the common and unique challenges they face as they seek to better protect the health of their workforce. Which as we all know is good for workers, their companies and wider society.”

Published: 20-09-16

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