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The future’s bright: new approach empowers young people to enjoy healthy working lives

November 2019

“If you give the future of health and safety to young people, it will be in safe hands” – Joanne Shepherd, Health and Safety Manager at Blackpool and The Flyde College (B&FC) and LOcHER Steering Group member

No one would argue with the need to empower young people about the importance of sustainable working lives, but the question of how to foster an enthusiasm for occupational safety and health has long challenged educators – just as it challenges risk management professionals in the workplace. Today’s students have grown up on a near-exclusive diet of negative news stories and media-inflated outrage about safety “rules” restricting freedoms and trouncing common sense. And anyway, health and safety is just dull, isn’t it?

Enter “LOcHER” – Learning Occupational Health by Experiencing Risks – a new approach in which students and apprentices identify the health and safety risks in their subject area; learn about those risks; and then showcase their ideas about how to control them. Groups participating in the project have the freedom to present their work in any way they choose: so far, students have produced an asbestos film, a PPE rap, a dermatitis board game and even mental-health-themed cupcakes.

The idea for LOcHER came to Bob Rajan, Principal Inspector and strategist at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and Vice Chair, Safety Groups UK (SGUK) on a flight home from Australia in December 2013. “I started to wonder: if we invested more in young people – instead of focusing only on workers – could we save ourselves a lot of hassle in the future? So LOcHER was born in the air!”

A hands-on, student-led approach, LOcHER seeks to capture attention in a way that PowerPoint slides and toolbox talks rarely do. It provides practical experience that participants can then transfer to the workplace. “It’s about students engaging, discovering and experiencing risk on their own,” Bob explains.

The programme has huge potential benefits. It raises risk awareness at an age when individuals are receptive to learning, but it also harnesses students’ capacity for innovation. A LOcHER group at B&FC came up with the idea of dyeing barrier cream to make it easy to detect whether workers are using it – an idea that is being developed further.

Hearts and minds

The lag between exposure to certain hazards and the appearance of ill-health symptoms makes it all too easy for inexperienced workers to adopt a cavalier attitude to risks.

LOcHER’s Steering Group – which includes representatives from NEBOSH, RoSPA, HSE and further education colleges – hopes to instil in students the mindset that they need to take steps to protect their health from the very start of their working lives.

Bob Rajan describes LOcHER as being in its “consolidation phase”. The Steering Group is looking to develop a simple demonstration tool kits based on the ideas students have come up with so far to tackle five key risks to health, which are risks to: breathing; skin; hearing; muscles and bones; and health and wellbeing. The aim is to encourage all FE colleges and awarding bodies to apply the LOcHER approach in teaching and training H&S.

NEBOSH is supporting the development of the LOcHER website, to make it a hub for material from all the different participating colleges – with the hope of encouraging more lecturers and students to adopt LOcHER.

“If you give the future of health and safety to young people, it will be in safe hands,” concludes Joanne Shepherd. “They’re going to come up with ideas to tackle problems we haven’t solved. But we have to engage them early.”

The LOcHER philosophy is about…

Acknowledgements to Dr Bob Rajan and to NEBOSH

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