SAFERTheatre: Improving workplace health

SAFERTheatre: Improving workplace health

Phillip Brown.bmp
by Phill Brown (Head of Risk and Technical at UK Theatre)
Date Published: 18 January 2017
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Karoshi! Heard of it? No neither had I.  Karoshi literally translates as “overwork death”.  Relevant to theatre? You’d think not, but do we have our own version the “show must go on”?

A news item from Japan caught my eye about a 27 year old worker, Joey Tocang, whose death was directly attributed to long hours of overtime, estimated to have been 122.5 hours a month.   I was amazed there was an actual phrase for occupational sudden mortality with the main causes of karōshi deaths being heart attack and stroke due to stressAlthough not to the extreme as Japan, where the government estimate 20% of its total workforce are at risk of karōshi, are we demonstrating alarming similarities within our industry?

We work in a fantastic but demanding industry where people often take risks that could have an effect on their health, working long unsociable hours, drinking alcohol excessively or frequently after work, pushing bodies to physical extremes or just not taking a simple lunch break!  I have worked in health and safety for almost 20 years and like a number of practitioners have simply not given as much attention to health as we have to safety.  Health hazards are often trickier to see or do not affect people immediately making it more difficult to control perhaps? Yes I have completed manual handling assessments and organised asbestos surveys but why has health been ignored by many of us and possibly seen as less essential than safety? 

Employers have a legal duty to protect workers not only from safety hazards but also health issues. The recently published annual Health and safety executive statistics for Great Britain provide distressing reading: 1.3million workers suffering from a work-related illness with 0.5million workers suffering from work related stress depression or anxiety. The HSE are concerned, tackling ill health is one of the themes for their strategy Helping Great Britain Work Well

I wonder of the 500,000 workers suffering from stress or associated mental health issues are working within our industry?  Artsminds, a collaboration between BAPAM, Equity, The Stage and Spotlight, surveyed 5000 people with 24% responding that mental health problems had impacted on their careers although the vast majority had still worked with their health issues.  The website contains excellent support information for people living and working with mental health.

The issues haven’t gone unnoticed at SOLT|UK Theatre so we are launching a new campaign to promote good practice across a range of subjects SAFERtheatre.  For 2017 we will focus on “Improving Workplace Health” with a number of initiatives planned including Mental Health First Aid training (22-23 May). Participants will spot early warning signs of mental health issues, provide initial help and guide people to support networks.  

Work life balance should be our aim or as they say in Japan “Shigoto to seikatsu no baransu”! I love this industry for the can do attitudes but let’s not make it must do at the expense of our mental or physical health.


Keep a look out on our Training & Events Page for dates for our Mental Health First Aid in the Performing Arts and our Priority & Stress Management course later this year. 

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