The work in 2019-20 aimed to build on this initial understanding by incorporating the views of a greater number of arboricultural contractors across the UK, including those who have encountered OPM as well as those who have not. Capturing the views of those not currently dealing with OPM is important since they may need to respond to incursions of OPM in the future.
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Health impacts of OPM among contractors and practitioners
- The online survey of contractors undertaking general arboricultural work, aimed to assess the awareness and scale of occupational health impacts of OPM, as well as the related training needs in the sector.
- Recruitment of contractors to participate in the survey was undertaken by Arboricultural Association (AA), using their contact database of over 3,500 members, each of whom received an email link to the online survey. Members were also asked to share the link within their networks (including colleagues and employees) and the survey was promoted by AA on social media. The survey was open March 13th to April 17th 2020, and resulted in 210 unique responses. This was during the implementation of COVID-19 movement restrictions, which may have had an impact on the response rate.
- The survey had a total of 54 questions addressing: contractors’ knowledge of OPM and training needs; undertaking of OPM contracts; frequency of OPM encounters (if any); frequency and severity of any health impacts resulting from OPM exposure; reporting of health impacts; and how health impacts have affected the business and working practices.
- Contractors and practitioners surveyed were knowledgeable about OPM and its potential health impacts, but felt they required more training both to prevent health impacts when encountering OPM, and to deal with any health impacts if they occur. Preferred organisations to deliver this training were similar to those from which contractors and practitioners were already receiving their OPM information – namely AA and Forestry Commission.
- Just over half of all the contractors and practitioners surveyed had encountered OPM, with a similar proportion of encounters across most roles and employer / organisation types. Most encounters in the last 12 months were planned rather than incidental.
- Just under a third of those who encountered OPM suffered health impacts, of which a rash or skin irritation was the most common and severe. However, this rarely corresponded to affected individuals missing time off work. Reporting by individuals with health impacts occurred less than half the time, mostly because they themselves judged the symptoms too mild to report.
- Over 70% of those who had encountered OPM reported that health impacts had no impact on their business. Impacts that were reported included direct financial costs from loss of work, and increased amount of work dealing with nests, despite health impacts.
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