Like many of you, I chose a career in health and safety because I fundamentally believe that everyone has a right to go home safe and well at the end of each working day.
Recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower have served as a stark reminder that some people, those employed in our emergency, security and military services, have jobs that require them to go into dangerous situations in order to protect us and our way of life. They are all heroes, and our thanks go out to them, as our thoughts are with all of those affected by these terrible incidents.
But heroism comes in many different forms. Following these incidents ordinary people came out to help others too. Off-duty medics rushed to the scene to help the injured, taxi drivers transported people without charge, restaurants, hotels and shops provided refreshments for the emergency services and people took to social media to offer their spare rooms to those who had nowhere to go, while others queued up at hospitals to give blood.
As I watched the news developing about the attack in London Bridge, music stars came together in Manchester for a special concert in support of those affected by the attack at the Manchester Arena just two weeks previously. A range of high profile musicians took to the stage with a common message, that caring and united communities are the best defence against extremism. It was a powerful event that reached audiences across the world. In the days following the Grenfell fire, donations of clothes, bedding, toys and grocery overwhelmed collection centres, and volunteers have come together to offer support to those who have lost everything.
It’s clear that a united Britain is a force to be reckoned with. But it’s sad to think that it often takes a tragedy to prompt us to unite and engage with each other.
This kind of engagement, peer support and social interaction is key to addressing the stigma around mental health and to promoting a positive approach to health, safety and sustainability. We clearly have the skills to do this when required, but we need to break down the barriers so that this can become part of our normal way of life rather than just a reflex action in the face of adversity.
On 8 June Britain went to the polls, but things didn’t go quite as expected, and the precise make-up of our new government is still under discussion. However, Theresa May has returned to Downing Street as the Prime Minister, having campaigned for ‘Strong and Stable Leadership’, and the country will now be looking to her to deliver on this.
There is no doubt of the significant challenges ahead. It’s safe to assume that Brexit negotiations will be a key priority for the new government, and we know that this process will bring about tangible changes in our economy, our workplaces and our way of life. We will need to get better at collaborating, engaging and supporting each other on a routine basis, if we want our voices heard and help to build the resilience necessary for Britain to thrive outside the European Union.
So, the country will be looking to the prime minister, government and MPs for some real leadership on this issue. We are calling on them to put people at the heart of their new work programme, in order to build a resilient workforce, which will support our economy and our way of life.
We are asking them to increase their focus on mental health issues, and to develop initiatives supporting timely access to healthcare advice and medical services for working people. We are also seeking improved support to help employers address the needs of vulnerable workers and improve access to work, and a better structure to promote and support flexible working, while still ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those employed in the ‘gig economy’. Following the Grenfell fire, we support calls for an urgent review of the standards put in place to ensure the safety of residential accommodation, and swift action to endure the safety of existing homes.
The time is right to focus on health, safety and wellbeing in order to ensure that Britain is fit to meet the challenges ahead. On a personal level we need to capture some of that blitz spirit that comes out in times of adversity, and reach out to build caring and supportive communities in our workplaces and society in general. You don’t have to do something big to be a hero, even small acts of caring can make a real difference.
Louise Ward is Policy, Standards and Communications director at the British Safety Council
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