Institute of Occupational Medicine 50th Anniversary

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18154, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on 50 years of the Institute of Occupational Medicine. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), a charity based in Edinburgh, on its 50th anniversary; notes that IOM was founded in Edinburgh as an independent research organisation in 1969 by the National Coal Board, primarily to complete groundbreaking research on lung disease in coal mine workers; further notes that IOM’s work has now progressed and broadened to understand and mitigate a range of occupational and environmental health risks, including from exposure to quartz and other dusts, asbestos, other fibrous materials, carbon nanotubes, ultraviolet radiation, air pollution and physical and psychological stress; believes that IOM’s research has been critical in leading to the understanding that coal mining not only caused the specific disease known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis but also an increased risk of chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD); understands that IOM has been a leading player in Europe in collaborative research related to the safety of nanomaterials and that SAFENANO, IOM’s Centre of Excellence, was one of the first recognised organisations developing the safe use of nanotechnology; considers that IOM has made an important contribution to policy nationally and internationally through developing, interpreting and assessing the scientific evidence on the health risks of these issues; believes that IOM’s research and other scientific work over the last 50 years has improved people’s health and safety at work, at home and in the environment, and thanks everyone who has been a part IOM over the last 50 years for their work to create a healthy and sustainable world through outstanding independent science.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I thank all the members from across Parliament who have supported the motion and allowed the debate to take place. I welcome to the gallery several members of the Institute of Occupational Medicine, including its chief executive officer, Rob Aitken.

It is a pleasure to be leading this members’ business debate to celebrate 50 years of the Institute of Occupational Medicine and its achievements over that time. The IOM was founded in Edinburgh in 1969 by the National Coal Board, and was founded as an independent research organisation. It is based in the Heriot-Watt University research park in Riccarton my constituency. It was established to complete groundbreaking research into lung disease in coal miners, and its research has been critical in leading to the common understanding that coal mining not only specifically caused the disease coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, but created increased risk of chronic obstructive lung disease among miners.

Since then, the IOM’s work has progressed and expanded and has enabled us to understand and mitigate a range of occupational and environmental health risks, including exposure to quartz and other dusts, asbestos and other fibrous materials, carbon nanotubes, ultraviolet radiation, air pollution and physical and psychological stress.

The IOM has made many achievements over the past 50 years, but I do not have time to mention them all. Nevertheless, I will touch on a few accomplishments that stand out to me. The IOM has been a leading player in Europe through collaboration on research on the safety of nanomaterials including emissions from welding and diesel engines. Its centre of excellence was one of the first recognised organisations to develop safe use of nanotechnology.

The IOM has also played an incredibly significant role in eradicating asbestos exposure across Europe. In 2006, having teamed up with the European Commission’s Senior Labour Inspectors Committee, it created a European guide on asbestos for employers, employees and labour inspectors. The guide defined a set of practices to eradicate exposure in the workplace by focusing on identifying asbestos-contaminated materials and engaging specialists to remove them.

Unfortunately, that guide came too late for my late father, who died of lung cancer in 1990 at the age of 56. As a young man, he was a merchant seaman who worked in the engine rooms of cargo ships. He maintained that it was not smoking that was killing him, but his exposure to the asbestos that was used for lagging pipes—a danger that was not known about in the 1950s or 1960s.

The IOM has also played an important role in improving global understanding of environmental pollution. It has contributed to the clean air for Europe programme and a European Union-funded review of air quality standards. Alongside AEA Technology, the IOM assessed the literature and offered its views on how many deaths and diseases in Europe might be caused by air pollution. Overall, the results from the clean air for Europe programme showed that the health and environmental benefits of interventions to reduce pollution far outweigh the implementation costs. That evidence-based assessment strengthened the negotiating position of those in the European Commission, the European Parliament and the member states who wanted better air quality and, subsequently, better health throughout Europe.

I will bring us up to date. As a result of IOM investigations earlier this year, problems were identified with the ventilation system in the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children here in Edinburgh. IOM is continuing to provide assistance to the commissioning team to facilitate improvements that will enable the hospital to open with a fully validated, safe and effective ventilation system.

IOM is now one of the most successful organisations in the EU’s flagship research programme, horizon 2020. IOM’s role in horizon 2020 has seen it leading or participating in 13 projects across topics including nanotechnology and chemical and environmental risks to health and their management. With regard to participation in horizon 2020 projects, IOM is the 12th most successful organisation in Scotland—if we exclude universities, it is the fourth most successful.

To mark its 50th anniversary, IOM has worked with Innovation Digital to create 50 pieces of unique digital artwork that will be on display at the event in the garden lobby tonight. Each one of the large posters will illustrate one of the 50 most significant scientific impacts that IOM has made during the past half century. The poster campaign is aligned with IOM’s charitable aims, one of which is

“to lead the advancement of education in these fields.”

It is with education in mind that one of the hopes for the campaign is that it will inspire the next generation of scientists.

I know that the Scottish Government and everyone across the chamber fully recognises our need to develop and grow Scotland’s expertise in the interrelated fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is hoped that IOM’s campaign can play a crucial role in promoting to today’s young people not just science, but science as a discipline in Scotland. I very much welcome the focus from IOM on helping to drive forward improvements in STEM education and training in Scotland.

I have briefly outlined how a Scottish organisation that is based in Edinburgh has made such a difference to health outcomes across Europe and beyond. I thank everyone who has been a part of IOM over the past 50 years for their hard work to create a healthy and sustainable world through outstanding independent science. Their research and other scientific work over the past 50 years has improved the health and safety of people at work, at home and in the environment.

I urge everyone who takes part in the debate to join the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, and me at the event tonight in the garden lobby. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask Mr MacDonald’s fan club in the gallery to please refrain from clapping, booing or doing otherwise during the debate. Thank you.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

I am very pleased to take part in this members’ business debate and I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing it.

The Institute of Occupational Medicine, or IOM, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It is one of our leading providers of workplace health research and consultancy services and it is vital that it has the opportunity to extend its scientific and medical disciplines.

Based here in Edinburgh, at Heriot-Watt University research park, the IOM employs more than 100 staff, who help to deliver safer working environments and healthier working lives for thousands of organisations and individuals across the world.

As we have already heard, the National Coal Board founded the IOM in Edinburgh as an independent research organisation back in 1969, primarily to enable the research of lung disease in coal miners. Nowadays, the IOM advises on, regulates, inspects and controls many kinds of hazard in the workplace, including legionella risk assessment, asbestos and other fibres, workplace exposure limits, hand-arm vibration, dust and noise monitoring and many others. It also provides an invaluable expert witness service.

As we know, the IOM’s excellent work has been to understand and mitigate a myriad range of occupational and environmental health risks. Those include physical risks to health in addition to those of a psychological nature, which the IOM also participates in mitigating.

The IOM has also been a leading light across Europe in collaborative research related to the use and safety of nanotechnology, which has helped to shape many of the latest advances in medicines, healthcare, personal cosmetics, paints, packaging and 3D printing. For the past 13 years, the IOM’s SafeNano centre of excellence has de-risked nanotechnology using its unique combination of laboratories, state-of-the-art equipment and expertise in collaboration with enterprises from small start-ups to national companies. SafeNano’s work has also ensured that the UK Government—in association with many of its agencies, such as the Health and Safety Executive, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency—has participated.

Much progress has been made on the impact of nanotechnology topics, and there are many examples of individuals and organisations who are addressing the risks that are there, and which have impacted on the workplace. However, there are many examples of Governments and industries that have still to fully recognise the extent of the risk and the issues that are emerging from the technologies that we have at present.

To that end, I commend and congratulate the Institute of Occupational Medicine on its pioneering and innovative approaches in its research and its effective governance across the technologies with which it has been involved, including current and emerging technologies, where there is as much uncertainty today as there was regarding past technologies. The Institute of Occupational Medicine—and organisations like it—has ensured that the issue is pushed up the agenda and that it is being tackled.

The institute has hit a major milestone in celebrating 50 years of service. The organisation has achieved a considerable amount of wellbeing for individuals and organisations across the years, and it is right that we recognise its achievements in the chamber. Its pioneering work has ensured that the organisation has gone from strength to strength. I congratulate all those who have contributed to it during the past 50 years and I wish it well for the next 50 years.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in the debate and thank my colleague, Gordon MacDonald, for bringing it to the chamber.

At a time when our rights have never been more uncertain—employment rights, human rights and rights around health and safety at work—there could not be more need for a body such as the Institute of Occupational Medicine. Its 50th anniversary is an important milestone in the institute’s history. Over the past half century, much scientific research has been undertaken in order to understand a whole range of occupational and environmental health risks.

So much has changed in the past 50 years. Thanks to amazing medical advances, we are living longer; however, on the downside, we are witnessing the devastating effects of global warming and climate change. The work that has been done and that is being done by the IOM is truly science at work; it is tangible proof that science has made the world a safer place for us all to live and work.

As we have heard, throughout the year, the organisation is celebrating our scientific achievements and the impacts that they have had in a series of events, exhibitions and artwork throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. And there is much to celebrate, such as groundbreaking work on asbestos, lung disorders from mining work, legionella disease, hand-arm vibration, chemical risk, noise monitoring and much more, much of which we heard about from previous speakers.

I confess that I knew little of the amazing achievements for which the institute is responsible until I was researching for the debate. Is it not always the way that the most important work—work that protects every one of us in some form or another—is done quietly in the background, and represents safeguards that, to some extent, we all take for granted? And the work and the research never stop. As technology moves on at an eye-watering pace, the IOM will go on protecting our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

I am proud that the institute’s headquarters is located in Edinburgh, in my colleague Gordon MacDonald’s constituency. Scotland’s capital city is a fitting place for that world-leading organisation to call home and I know that its global reputation enhances our country more than we will ever know.

Sometimes, it is good to stop and think about what is going on behind the scenes that protects us and enhances our environment, whether that be at work or in our day-to-day life. I thank the Institute of Occupational Medicine for all its skilled research and innovative, amazing work. I wish everyone involved a very happy 50th anniversary.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I thank Gordon MacDonald for lodging the motion for debate and for an excellent speech. He is clearly proud to have the Institute of Occupational Medicine based in his constituency. Although there are many achievements to cover, he did justice to the institute.

Unfortunately, I am unable to stay for the full debate—or for the reception, which I am sorry to miss out on. I pass on the best wishes of David Stewart MSP, who had hoped to speak tonight, but is unwell. However, my colleague Lewis Macdonald, the convener of the Health and Sport Committee, is here and will be at the reception to join the celebrations.

As we have heard, from its origins in the late 1960s as an organisation that was designed primarily to research lung disease in mine workers, the institute continues to do crucial work on informing us of the risks that are faced by workers and increasing the rights of people at work.

As Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson and an MSP for the Central Scotland region who represents many former mining communities, I know well the legacy of industrial respiratory illness. I thank Gordon MacDonald for speaking about his father’s experience.

I was appointed recently as the parliamentary pulmonary rehab champion by the British Lung Foundation, so I am all too aware of the work that needs to be done to improve treatment for lung health and the availability of pulmonary rehab and other treatments for those with lung disease, so that that is equally accessible across the country. Although it is right to focus on access to treatment, much more focus must be given to the prevention of illnesses in the first place; that is where the institute’s research comes in and is so vital in increasing our understanding of occupational and environmental health risks for workers, such as asbestos and other hazards.

As Gordon MacDonald and Rona Mackay set out, there is a global context. Although we in the Parliament are alive to that, we must wake up to the fact that those challenges do not have borders. The motion touches on the need to create a healthy and sustainable world, and we will have to play our part in achieving that alongside the institute.

I am the daughter of a health and safety officer, so I am well acquainted with some of the themes that we have touched on tonight and the importance of health and safety in the workplace. Like Rona Mackay, I did not know a great deal about the institute. That is the great thing about members’ business debates—the chamber becomes like a classroom and we can all learn from one another’s passions.

Lung disease has affected our family, too. My gran, who was a barmaid for most of her working life, died because of lung cancer. She was a smoker herself, but I think that smoking in the workplace certainly had a big part to play. Thankfully, the Parliament has passed legislation that has addressed that issue.

We need to understand and scientifically research potential hazards. We also need the presence of strong trade unions in the workplace that can advocate for workers and ensure that they are being fairly treated. Rona Mackay began her speech by talking about rights. People need to know what their rights are and when they are being breached.

We may no longer have coal miners working in Scotland, but the work of the IOM remains just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Everyone has the right to be safe while they are doing their job. I reiterate my thanks and congratulations to the Institute of Occupational Medicine for the work that it does and that it has done over the past 50 years. I wish everyone at the IOM well for the future.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I thank my colleague Gordon MacDonald for bringing the motion to Parliament for debate this evening. Like others who have spoken, I had not understood the extent of the work of the Institute of Occupational Medicine until I did my research for tonight’s debate. As the member for Motherwell and Wishaw, and as someone who grew up in that area, members can understand that the issue is personal to me, as I know many people who were involved in mining and the steelworks and who suffered occupational ill health as a result. Indeed, vibration white finger is common among members of a certain generation in my area, and it was interesting to hear about the work that the IOM has done on the recognition of the effect of that condition in terms of ill health.

It is important that, through the work of organisations such as the IOM, the effect on women and children in the workers’ families has been recognised. Asbestos and silica dust and so on were taken home to families at one time, and that caused ill health in the wider community, too.

I am delighted to speak tonight as I am the convener of the cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness, which has held a number of meetings specifically on occupational health. In 2015, we had a fascinating presentation from Professor Andrew Watterson, from the University of Stirling’s centre for public health and population health research. What he told us takes us back to the reason why the IOM was important at the time of its inception. He said that, in 1875, paraffin cancer was first described by a Professor Bell, who had noticed it in workers in the Scottish shale plants. The incredible thing is that the article in which the first case was described said that the occurrence of the cancer was

“a well known fact among the local physicians”.

That is something that we forget: culturally, miners, steelworkers and others who are affected by occupational health issues will have known dozens of people who have been affected over the years, yet it took a long time for action to be taken. Indeed, in 1922, 19 cases of paraffin cancer were detected in the Scottish industry, and no effective action had been taken between 1875 and 1922. That is why what we are doing today, in highlighting the issue, is important.

In his presentation, Professor Watterson said that 15,764 people had died of cancer that year in Scotland, and that 10 per cent of the cancer deaths were work related. That means that 1,576 people died that year because of their work environment. That is why, as Monica Lennon said, it is important that we recognise the work that is done across the world of trade unions and others who campaign for safer workplaces and aim to ensure that every worker has information about occupational hygiene, so that they can look after their health. I am proud that we are highlighting that this evening.

At that meeting of the cross-party group, we also discussed the issue of welding, and heard how that is coming to the fore as a potential area of occupational ill health.

Each year on 28 April, we mark workers memorial day, on which we remember people who have not made it home from their workplace. I want to highlight the work of the Scottish hazards group, which campaigns not only in Scotland and the UK but across the world for work that does not cause physical or mental injury or illness; for meaningful work that enables the development of skill and competence; for work that differentiates but does not discriminate, and is based on respect and fairness; and for access to occupational health and safety information and support. That is vital, going forward.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing the motion to Parliament. I enjoy the opportunity that members’ business debates offer me to learn about charities and organisations at an in-depth level. That has been the case with the Institute of Occupational Medicine, because, prior to the debate, I had not fully comprehended the extent of its work.

As we know, the Institute of Occupational Medicine was founded in Edinburgh in 1969 and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. It has an interesting history. With the aim of improving the lives of people all round the world by improving health and safety at work and at home, the National Coal Board founded the IOM as an independent research organisation, with the primary purpose of carrying out groundbreaking research on lung disease in coal miners.

As the scope of its work developed, the IOM’s research unearthed that coal mining not only caused pneumoconiosis but increased the risk of chronic obstructive lung disease, a condition that is commonly caused by tobacco smoking. The IOM also made important advances in the understanding of how asbestos causes disease, which led to the establishment of methods for assessing possible hazards.

Years later, the IOM’s remit has broadened to cover a range of occupational health and safety risks. The IOM relaunched as a fully independent, self-funded charity in 1990. Its services and areas of expertise include legionnaires disease risk assessment, helping businesses to comply with chemical risk regulation, dust exposure monitoring and noise monitoring. The IOM carries out research into areas such as UV exposure in outdoor workers, and it produces reviews of air quality. Its work informs Government policy.

As well as doing that vital work, the IOM understands that the world has changed a lot in the past 50 years—positively and negatively—and that that brings new challenges. Since 2005, it has become a leading player in Europe in collaborative research into the safety of nano-sized materials. As members heard, that has led to the establishment of SafeNano, the IOM’s centre of excellence.

As the IOM has taken on a broader portfolio of work, its influence across the world has grown. As well as covering the UK and Ireland, it oversees a number of international projects that are aimed at improving the environment of thousands of workers. In a significant development, in 2012, foreseeing the need for expertise to improve working conditions in Asia, it set up its first overseas office, in Singapore.

I again thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing the topic to the Parliament, and I thank the Institute of Occupational Medicine and all its staff for all the work that they do to improve people’s health and safety at work, at home and in the environment. I wish the IOM a happy 50th anniversary.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing this debate, and I join Monica Lennon in thanking him for talking about his father’s experience. As Annie Wells said, the debate has given us an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the Institute of Occupational Medicine among members and, I hope, in wider society.

The IOM has a proud, 50-year record of improving the lives and the health and wellbeing of a great many people. I put on record my congratulations to the IOM on reaching this milestone. I hope that the next 50 years are equally successful.

The IOM’s journey over the past 50 years reflects the seismic changes that we have seen in our industrial landscape, which Gordon MacDonald set out. In 1969, the world was coal powered. Many thousands of miners worked in dangerous conditions and ran the poorly understood risk of exposure to harmful substances such as coal dust. As Clare Adamson reminded us, sometimes the hazards extended into the wider environment and even the home—that is an important point.

The IOM’s work gave people a better understanding of the dangers to which miners were exposed, allowing the health of miners to be better supported and enabling mines to mitigate the risks of exposure and become safer places in which to work.

Since then, our industrial landscape has been transformed. The pits have closed. Much of our heavy industry has been swept away, and new types of work and workplace have emerged.

The IOM’s recent work reflects that change. The move to a largely office-based, information-led economy means that our workers face new and different challenges to their health, safety and wellbeing. Nonetheless, it remains the case that employers have a duty of care to understand risks to their workers’ health and safety and to take appropriate steps to mitigate those risks.

We are facing an ageing workforce, with people having to work later in life before they can get their pensions, so we need to improve our understanding of the risks of an older workforce and what steps can be taken to keep our workers safe.

We are also seeing increases in mental health issues in the workplace. It is important for individuals, organisations and the wider economy that we recognise and understand the challenges that that presents and develop approaches to address them. The IOM has developed expertise in a wide range of areas where work can present hazards to workers and it has helped many organisations to take the steps that are necessary to protect their workers.

Scotland is leading the way in pioneering new technologies in industrial biotechnology, life sciences, digital technology and artificial intelligence, science and engineering and space technology. We aim to make Scotland world renowned for inventing, designing, developing and manufacturing key products and technology.

As Rona Mackay outlined, the IOM is an example of Scotland’s world-leading innovation and an important contributor to our understanding of the impact that new technologies, new materials and new ways of working have on the workforce in Scotland and worldwide. Every worker is entitled to go to work and return home safe and unharmed by their work or their workplace. Here in Scotland, we take worker protection very seriously, collaborating across public, private and trade union bodies—Alexander Stewart spoke about some of those collaborations. The partnership on health and safety in Scotland is a collaboration between the many players in the Scottish occupational health and safety sector. It is the envy of other parts of the UK and provides a forum for addressing existing and emerging safety challenges in the modern workplace.

Scotland punches above its weight in science and research and enjoys a global reputation for research and innovation. To maintain that lead, we need to encourage new scientists, engineers and technologists. Organisations such as the IOM need to be able to recruit skilled and qualified scientists and researchers.

As well as creating an environment that can attract the best minds from around the world, we need to encourage our young people to take up the study of STEM subjects, which Gordon MacDonald mentioned. Our STEM education and training strategy is focused on encouraging and supporting everyone to develop their STEM capability and skills, through concerted action in early years and school education, community learning, colleges, universities, apprenticeships, science centres and festivals. Our STEM strategy, which we launched in 2017, aims to build Scotland’s capacity to deliver excellent STEM learning and to close equity gaps in participation and attainment in STEM. It also aims to inspire young people and adults to study STEM subjects and to provide a better connection between STEM education and training and the needs of the labour market in Scotland.

In particular, we are working with partners to address the underrepresentation of women in STEM courses and careers and ensure that Scotland’s STEM sectors are diverse, equal and prosperous. It is only by attracting the brightest and best into STEM subjects and careers that Scotland will continue to be at the cutting edge of science, engineering and technology.

As Gordon MacDonald mentioned, the IOM commissioned 50 posters that combine art and science to commemorate its 50 years of history. The splendid visualisation of the IOM’s contribution to scientific research and tackling the real and present hazards in the workplace demonstrate the breadth and depth of the value of the institute. I encourage everyone to take a look at them in the Parliament’s garden lobby tonight. If members cannot make that, they are available on the IOM website—so log in and have a look.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first human being to land on the moon—a remarkable technological achievement—but it is also important to mark the 50th anniversary of achievements closer to home. I acknowledge what the IOM has given us over the past 50 years and offer the institute my very best wishes for the next 50.

Meeting closed at 17:39.