Why have the occupational hygiene strategy?

Between 2% and 5% of railway operatives suffer ill health caused or made worse by work. Long-term occupational diseases can result from a multitude of exposures and often have a long latency period, not appearing until a significant time after the first personal exposure.

Evolving knowledge of exposure to health hazards has led to the identification of more occupational diseases.  The rail industry has legal (under the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974), ethical, and financial responsibilities to use the science of occupational hygiene to anticipate, recognise, evaluate, and establish control measures to prevent occupational ill health.

RSSB and the Occupational Hygiene Management Group have published a briefing on how occupational hygiene can support the industry to improve workforce health and wellbeing. This accompanies a cross-industry strategy to identify activities to improve how health hazards and their potential control methods are identified, prioritised, and managed.

Who can use the occupational hygiene strategy?

The Occupational Hygiene strategy has been designed for use by those responsible for health and safety—primarily business managers and trade union safety representatives. It provides a roadmap for industry to improve the management of health hazards. The strategy focuses on three crucial areas: 

  • forming an industry health risk profile
  • supporting consistent management of health hazards
  • improving occupational hygiene awareness.

The benefits of occupational hygiene

The ORR’s ‘Closing the Gap on Health’ (2019) report indicated that annually between 2% and 5% of railway staff suffer ill health caused or made worse by work. Based on the range of values for the rate per 100,000 workers, the rate of work-related ill health in railway operatives is broadly comparable with the construction sector (3%-5%) and with transport associate professionals (2%-6%) while RSSB’s 2019 report 'Cost of Impaired Health Across the Rail Network' estimates that total sickness absence costs within the rail industry sits at £335m every year.  The HSE estimate that new cases of work-related illness within the rail industry costs the employing companies between £2.2m and £4.4m every year, with short latency diseases costing the industry £4,000 per employee.

Through the application of occupational hygiene, the GB rail industry and its employees will benefit from:

  • improvements to worker health and increased life expectancy
  • a reduction in the number of operators who must leave employment early through injury and illness
  • a lower social and healthcare cost with increased worker potential
  • more efficient working processes with technological improvements and increased productivity.