Cold Stress: The Dangers of Working Outdoors

What is Cold Stress? Is It Dangerous to Work in Extreme Cold Conditions?

The UK experiences a temperate oceanic climate in which apart from the relatively warmer months of June through September, it is mostly too cold to work in the outdoors without appropriate protective clothing. Working either outdoors in a cold environment or indoors in the refrigerated areas and warehouses over a long period of time may pose serious health threats. Over the last five years, 168,000 deaths due to cold-related illness were recorded in the UK alone, ranking it among the bottom three across Europe. There is a higher risk for people working in maritime, commercial fishing, agriculture, and construction.

While working in such cold conditions, internally, the human body has to work extra to maintain the core temperature of 98.6° F. When the body is unable to achieve it due to lack of proper clothing, exposed body parts, wet clothing, etc., it may fall prey to one or more of cold stress illnesses. Some of the most dangerous cold stress-related illnesses include but are not limited to frostbites, frostnip, chilblains, immersion foot, and trenchfoot.

So, the question of how one can prevent the risk of developing cold stress arises. Wearing layered clothing with a warm woollen cap or hoodie is a good start. Stay hydrated and eat high-calorie food to maintain energy all day. Check out this infographic from Emtraining Solutions that entails various illnesses related to cold stress and other ways to prevent them.

 

Don’t sleep on it!

Don’t sleep on it!

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is the main focus of DVLA concern with people diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), a condition in which sufferers experience significant periods of not breathing, while they are asleep during to airway obstruction.  Inadequate oxygenation of the body from OSA is bad for general health.  Lack of deep sleep leads to those affected being fatigued and falling asleep easily during the day (even if they are not aware of OSA). Drivers who suffer from Sleep Apnoea must notify DVLA to get their condition reviewed and controlled before they can go on driving. DVLA are solely concerned about falling asleep while driving, not other health issues including exacerbation of diabetes or the increased tendency to heart disease and/or stroke.

Some reports suggest that about 20 per cent of adults suffer a significant degree of EDS, although OSA is only one cause. A far bigger cause is disturbed sleep due to things like shift work and caring duties for infants and sick dependants involving waking nights.

ESS (Epworth Sleepiness Scale) and AHI (Apnoea Hypopnoea Index) scores are used by medical practitioners to assess tendency to EDS.  Some research suggests that ESS results are subjective and sleep specialists warn against them as wholly reliable assessments of EDS. Other research suggests that there is no clear correlation between AHI and ESS scores.

In assessing the risk of sleepiness while driving, AHI is a not very reliable measure for tendency to EDS.  Arguably, were a better tool available and widely adopted, the DVLA might reduce its fixation on OSA. Many more ‘at risk’ drivers might be brought into the DVLA medical surveillance net, while at the same time releasing from continuing medical surveillance some OSA suffers who do not suffer significant EDS. Sleepiness, however, is a very transient and subjective state for which there are few reliable markers.

Medical practitioners should be made more aware of other non OSA related causes of EDS and arguably, where these cannot be brought under satisfactory control, DVLA should be informed as they are in cases where significant OSA is diagnosed.

At present the duty to inform DVLA about OSA is triggered by medical diagnosis. Opinions and guidance vary as to whether, once diagnosed, the OSA suffer should cease driving until given permission to resume by DVLA. DVLA stress that the primary duty not to drive while unfit from any cause rests with the driver. More publicity about sleep and driving may cause some drivers not to go to their doctors for fear of being suspended from driving while awaiting treatment – but in practice this fear is unfounded. Treatment, such as using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) equipment at night is available via NHS sleep clinics and with a bit of practice is quite easy to use. It can quickly help the OSA sufferer to feel a whole lot better and have a lot more energy. More guidance is still needed for employers and potential sufferers.  Responsible drivers need to pay more attention to ‘sleep hygiene’ and to finding ways of remaining alert when at the wheel. They need to be prepared to discuss sleepiness issues with their doctors and not be afraid of being caught in the DVLA medical surveillance net.

Sleepiness and road safety have been a big part of RoSPA’s policy and campaigning work on managing Occupational Road Riskcampaigns for nearly twenty years. (See our advice to employers at https://www.rospa.com/road-safety/resources/free/employers.) The key message is that employers must not cause their drivers to drive tired. It needs an intelligent approach. Anyone who feels sleepy at the wheel, regardless of the cause, knows they are becoming impaired and must stop and recover until they are safe to proceed.

RoSPA’sNational Occupational Health Safety Committee (which brings together the main institutional stakeholders in this area) has begun work on tackling fatigue in the workplace. This is not only highly topical because of its links to mental health and ‘wellness’ but its impact on safety and accidents in the workplace have generally been underplayed up to now. New guidance however is now available in the form of the HSE fatigue risk index (see http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr446.htm).

ROSPA are thinking about producing some guidance on OSA and Employment (‘OSA and your job’ perhaps?), helping both sufferers and their managers to better understand the issues involved and to avoid over-the-top, excessively risk averse responses that might lead them to exclude OSA sufferers from certain roles ‘on health safety grounds’. Talking to specialists and consultants reveals how reluctant many of their patients are to reveal to their employers that they have had an OSA diagnosis.   There is undoubtedly a lot of prejudice and misinformation in the workplace about this issue, and about fatigue and sleepiness generally – which, of course, goes a lot wider than OSA. ‘cat napping’, as an essential coping mechanism in the workplace, (especially for older workers who make up a bigger proportion of the workforce these days) ought to be a widely understood and accepted coping mechanism, not seen as an outlandish idea.

If you have experience in tackling problems experienced by workers in getting enough good quality sleep we’d like to hear from you.

Roger Bibbings MBE CFIOSH

Partnership Consultant RoSPA                                             May 2019

 

Work Modifications wins an award!

Work Modifications wins an award

The Council for Work and Health is delighted that the Talking Work project has won the Vocational Rehabilitation  Association’s (VRA) Innovation, Research and Education Award for 2019.   The lead researcher Dr Devdeep Ahuja received the award during the VRA symposium on 1st May 2019 at Birmingham.

In supporting the nomination, Richard Cienciala, Deputy Director, DWP/DHSC Work and Health Unit praised the collaborative approach taken by the Council and commented that the “Talking Work” checklist “should be an invaluable tool to support doctors in their work-related conversations and in advising on reasonable adjustments.”

 

https://vrassociationuk.com/vra-awards-2019-winners-gallery/

 

 

 

Do Fit Notes always Fit the Problem?

Do Fit notes always Fit the Problem?

 

Minister Matt Hancock recently launched the NHS Long Term Plan that highlighted our need to address the high rates of employment sickness absence due to musculoskeltal (MSK) problems and/or mental ill health.

 

Let’s look at some stats: 9 to 10 million GP Fit Notes are signed annuallyin England alone. A colossal number, likely to be taking an inordinate amount of precious GP time, particularly when 80% of these are used by employees as evidence of their illness for their employer as required by HR policies. 93% of GP Fit notes say that the person is not fit for work. Surely it’s time for another approach that chimes with the upcoming changes in GP Surgeries?

 

Work related problems are mainly identified in GP surgeries which are already taking the strain of high patient demand with a shrinking workforce. So it is great news that the NHS Long Term Plan sets out to expand the multi disciplinary team (MDT) workforce in GP surgeries to help meet demand. Ambitious pilots using allied health professionals (AHPs) like occupational therapists, paramedics and physiotherapists have shown safe, cost effective results that patients and families welcome. Seeing an AHP as a First Contact Practitioner from your GP surgery is going to become more the norm.

 

Which leads me back to my question….do Fit Notes always fit the problem? So, if you were off work, would you use a confidential work clinic based in your GP surgery? You may be surprised to learn that a growing number of patients are doing just this and using newly opened clinics in Southampton and South Pembrokeshire. Occupational Therapy Led Vocational Clinics are for people who are in employment and struggling with MSK and/or mental health problems. A safe space where they can talk through what work difficulties they face and how these may be resolved. Everybody gets an AHP Health and Work Report which can be shared with the employer with advice about how work modifications could keep the person in work.

 

  • Does the patient get individualised work and symptom management advice? Yes
  • Does the employer get more detailed, accurate info about how to support staff? Yes
  • Can the employer use the AHP Health and Work Report as evidence for statutory sick pay? Yes.
  • Does it cut down on GP time writing GP fit notes? Yes but …

 

…..to embed this new approach, we need employers to understand that there are alternatives to the traditional GP Fit Note. If they and the employee want to use alternative evidence than the GP fit note, this is available now and the legislation allows it.

 

So the question for employers may be ….would you prefer a detailed report saying how someone can stay at work by an AHP or a GP fit note just saying they are not fit for work? The answer will depend on the clinical situation of course, but the AHP Health and Work Report can provide the clear instructions that employers often crave.

 

Full results of the Occupational Therapy Led Vocational Clinics will be available in March 2020. These Clinics are one of 19 initiatives across the UK selected to receive funding from the Work and Health Challenge Fund.

 

#OTVoc.

#WHChallengeFund

Genevieve Smyth

Professional Adviser

Royal College of Occupational Therapists

 

BREAKING NEWS! Talking Work

Talking Work – the Council for Work and Health’s online resource for GPs to help them complete Fit Notes is the subject of a newly published (paid) news story on GP online – the everyday resource for general practitioners and the website for GP magazine. Talking Work was developed with funding from the government’s Work and Health Unit as part of their 2017 Command Paper strategy to enable one million additional people with disability or long term illness to return to or remain in work.

To view the article click link