Thursday 8th August is Cycle to Work Day in the UK. What has this got to do with safety in the workplace? Quite a lot actually.
A 2018 Decathlon survey of more than 7,600 UK adults found that only 7% currently cycle to work. For the reader musing that you’re more likely to get killed cycling to work than through an incident at work, yes, 47% of those who don’t cycle to work cited road safety as a barrier to getting on their bike for the commute.
However, the point here is about the broader benefits of physical exercise and how they might impact safety in the workplace.
The scale of poor mental health and its cost to the UK economy has been clearly established with the annual cost estimated to be between £74bn and £99bn. Of that, around 40% is borne by employers with half of their share ascribed to “presenteeism” (reduced productivity of those present and working with poor mental health).
While we’re not aware of any empirical data linking ‘presenteeism’ to workplace safety and fatal/non-fatal injuries, it is accepted that ‘human factors’ are an increased focus for mitigating health and safety risk in companies today. Indeed, Melvin Sandell, a former Inspector with the HSE and with sixteen years of experience, spoke at the 2019 Safety & Health Expo on how risk mitigation has moved away from “machinery based malfunctions towards those resulting from human factors”. Sandell ascribed this to “the increasing reliability of machinery, the need to adhere to stringent health and safety regulations and a rigorous routine of compliance inspections”.
Every one of us is capable of making a mistake. Whatever our state of mental well-being, the pressure to ‘get the job done’ can lead us to cut corners, increasing the risk of an incident.
The good news is that exercise can improve the function of our brain helping us to:
- increase the volume of the hippocampus and, with it, our long term memory function
- increase the volume of the prefrontal cortex which helps with our decision making
Also, research by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College, London (based on robust analysis of over a quarter of a million people) found consistent evidence that people who exercise are less likely to develop depression.
Joining the dots a little: the fitter we are, the better our mental condition (in terms of both well-ness and cognitively capability); and the better we should perform the ‘human factors’ of workplace safety and the better we can mitigate the associated risks.
Maybe cycling to work is not an option for you whether due to distance, road safety, or for some other reason (maybe, like me, you work from home) but can you walk to work? Walk to the train station rather than drive?
Wherever and however we can all find the time to get a little fitter will be for the benefit of ourselves and all those around us (workers and family alike). To misquote an ancient Chinese proverb, “every long journey starts with a small step”. Perhaps we can all take ours tomorrow on Cycle to Work Day?