European Week for Safety and Health at Work: Planning Tips

When you’re planning workplace health and safety activities annually, there will doubtless be a number of standing dates you stick in the diary, around which you can build awareness, campaigns or endeavours, including the fast-approaching European Week for Safety and Health at Work (w/c 22 October 2018).

European Week for Safety and Health at Work - 22 to 26 October 2018

European Week for Safety and Health at Work - 22 to 26 October 2018

Comprehensive campaign materials are available free for use at .  Yet, I can’t help but feel something is missing. 

The personal!

The powerpoint presentation covers definitions, facts, figures and legislation.  But, do people care enough about these things to remember them? 

If we’re being honest, if you tested someone a week later, how much would they remember?

Instead, present them a powerful story, and I think you could ask them a year later about it and they’d be able to remember.  Why?  Because they weren’t just told it, they felt it.

So, when planning for European Week for Safety and Health at Work, how do you personalise it and ensure you connect your people to the message, be that your leadership teams, line management, supervisors, or your workforce more widely?  

2018’s Theme: Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances

The focus of this year’s campaign is managing dangerous substances.  These are set out in the campaign materials as:

•       materials of natural origin such as grain dust, asbestos or crude oil and its constituents;

•       chemicals, e.g. in paints, glues, disinfectants, cleaning products or pesticides;

•       process-generated contaminants, e.g. welding fumes, silica dust or combustion products like diesel exhausts.

So, to pick out a few of these:

Asbestos: Personal Impact Safety Videos and more

There are many resources out there where you can get over the effects of an asbestos-related illness.  The HSE has a number of videos available telling the stories of those who are suffering asbestos-related disease, or who have watched family members suffer:   

Another resource which is likely to be less well-known - and which I defy anyone to remain untouched by - is a film produced as part of Hibernian F.C.’s GameChanger initiative.  The aim of the initiative is to work in partnership to harness the power of football to tackle inequalities and promote social justice. 

Shortly after its launch, they received a letter from a supporter.  Julie Roberts lost both her dad and her uncle within a matter of 8 weeks of one another to mesothelioma, the aggressive and incurable asbestos-driven lung cancer.  Her dad had been diagnosed at the age of 69  and died 9 short months later, from a disease he’d contracted while working as a joiner some 30 years previous, and which suffocated him to death in front of his family.

In the 4-minute-long video, Julie heartbreakingly talks of her dad, the lifelong Hibs fan, who shared his love of football with his daughter.  “He was my best friend” are words that can’t fail to make an impression on the heart of the stoniest of souls.    

She is determined to make sure that Mesothelioma Matters, and as part of your activities, you could encourage people to sign up to her #mesotheliomamatters pledge:

Julie talks of one aspect of how asbestos affects families, the impact of the loss of a loved one.

Another aspect is the domain of Mavis Nye.  She contracted mesothelioma from washing her husband’s clothes when he worked as a shipwright in Chatham Docks. 

Her and her husband’s story helps make clear that when working in an environment which contains asbestos, if not done correctly, the risk is not just to you, but to your loved ones at home too.    

In this video filmed for IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign, Mavis explains the treatment she’s had and says that she calls mesothelioma “Mr Nasty”, and that following the treatment, Mr Nasty is “laying flat and there’s no way we’re going to disturb him”. 

Sadly, in April 2018, Mavis got news she wasn’t prepared for.  Mr Nasty has in fact returned.  Two new areas of lesions had appeared since she last had a scan.  She says she couldn’t, didn’t want to take it in: “I had such great hopes I had beaten this and now I’m back at the starting line and I have to start again.”

Mavis has been inspirational to so many “Meso Warriors”.  And, even just a brief look at her Facebook presence will reveal countless stories of heartache.  Daughters who have lost dads.  Wives who have lost husbands.  And we are now beginning to see parents losing children to asbestos-related disease.  This is no longer a cancer of old age.    

Mavis is turning her and her family’s anguish into positive action.  And again, as part of your activities, you could help support the Mavis Nye Foundation, set up to offer support to mesothelioma victims and fund research into drug development for mesothelioma.  It also supports student nurses and doctors in the field of mesothelioma.

Chemicals: The Ken Woodward Story

If you’re looking for an impactful personal story about the dangers of poorly managed chemicals, it would be difficult not to cite Ken Woodward. 

Probably alongside Jason Anker, Ken ranks as the best known motivational safety speaker out there.  He was working for Coca Cola, when a line cleaning process went badly wrong.  A mixture of caustic soda and bleach exploded 18 inches from his face.  As well as losing his sight, Ken also lost his sense of taste and smell.

His story includes near misses that went unreported; a shortcut being used in place of the recognised SSOW; PPE that wasn’t fit for purpose; and a decision not to don that PPE in any event.

Ken’s life was saved by his colleagues, but the ripple effect of what they witnessed that night stays with them.  And Ken had himself only recently gotten engaged to Sue shortly before the incident.  He offered her the chance to call off the engagement.  She chose not to. 

The most recent video released by Ken is of himself and Sue, filmed together for the first time, reading extracts from the diary detailing the time directly after the incident. The preview linked here is not to be used for training purposes, but is enough to convince how moving the full film must be.

Silica Dust: The New Asbestos?

I have heard silica dust referred to as the new asbestos, but in actual fact IOSH No Time To Lose materials refers to it as “one of the oldest workplace hazards”.

Again, the campaign materials from NTTL are comprehensive.  After filling in a brief form, you can access infographics, case studies, and engagement discussion points, among other materials. 

The “Other Resources” section points you to a video from the HSE of former stonemason Terry, available here:

But I feel a shorter one, where his wife Christine also talks about the effects of him being diagnosed with silicosis, may be more effective and that is available from this Go Home Healthy link.

After European Week for Safety and Health, what next?

Those then are some ideas to personalise European Week for Safety and Health. To help your leaders, managers, supervisors and workforce to not only hear what is being said, but to feel how it might feel if dangerous substances are not managed safely.

So then, aside from this week in October, do you have any other standing weeks, or days in the calendar? 

If this is your diary entry, can I urge you to change it...

If this is your diary entry, can I urge you to change it...

In particular, I’m keen to know if 28 April is in your diary for next year and each and every subsequent year? 

“It sure is” you say? Ah, but does the entry read: World Day for Safety and Health at Work?

If it does, can I implore you to change the focus. 

Because myself and so many others who have lost loved ones through work-related incident or illness, we mark the day as International Workers’ Memorial Day: a day to remember those who have died because of work, and to renew a commitment to fight for the living. 

…and change it to this: International Workers’ Memorial Day.

…and change it to this: International Workers’ Memorial Day.

Why do you work in the health and safety field?  Because you care?  Because maybe something has happened in your own personal or professional life in the past which has led you to where you are now?  Because you don’t want anyone else to suffer loss of health or loss of life as a result of a work-related incident.

So, where should the focus be? 

On loved ones and their families.

I plan to write another blog soon on ways to mark IWMD in your workplace and I’d be interested to hear what you have done, both to mark it, and to mark European Week for Safety and Health. How else have you personalised it?

Are there stories you have been able to tell? Or that your people have been able to tell? Have you found other videos from other jurisdictions that are worthy of sharing wider, be that from WorkSafe Australia or New Zealand, from OSHA, or elsewhere?

I recently read a quote that talked of the “greatest life messages often coming from the deepest wounds, and they will have the most powerful impact on another life.”

Just where have you seen the greatest life messages? Let’s share them and stop any more deep wounds.

Louise is a popular health and safety workplace speaker who, through telling her brother Michael's story, helps organisations reinforce their safety message. To find out more, view this short video.  And should there be anything you want Louise to cover in future briefings, please drop her a message to or comment below.