22nd October, 2020

Is Breakfast The Secret To Better Health And Safety?

It's no secret that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it's a saying we've probably all heard before. But around 31% of adults regularly skip breakfast. What effect does breakfast skipping have on health and safety, and should breakfast be part of your health and safety strategy?

Is Breakfast The Secret To Better Health And Safety? header image

According to previous studies, around 2 in 5 adults in the UK regularly skip breakfast. And this is most likely to happen during the week when time is tight in the morning as you rush to beat the traffic and get to work on time. And while of course, people should be able to choose when, and what, they eat, one of the most common reasons people give for skipping breakfast is that they "didn't have time".

The 2015 “BBC Good Food Nation” survey, which was administered among 5,046 adults aged 16+, showed that 31% of those surveyed skipped breakfast.

Does it matter if over 30% of your team is skipping breakfast? And is how your team manage their time, their morning, and their meals outside of work none of your business?

Well, breakfast can have a big impact on both the safety and the health of an individual. And if they are skipping breakfast because they didn't have the time because of work demands, maybe it's something you can help with. And as we will discover, it could benefit your workforce and your business.

Breakfast and safety

You might think that breakfast is good for your health. But would it surprise you to know that breakfast is also good for your safety? During construction work for London 2012, the Olympic Delivery Authority noticed a worrying accident trend. During the hour before lunch, accident levels increased.

But can skipping breakfast put you at greater risk of an accident at work? Yes! Because if you are working in a high-risk environment, or doing a safety-critical task, you need to be alert. Hunger is a distraction. If you're hungry, it's hard to stay focused. And hunger can quickly lead to low energy levels and fatigue. If that's not bad enough, you can lose your patience and become irritable. You get hangry (hunger angry).

If you can't concentrate, and your too busy thinking about lunch, it's a recipe for disaster. You're more likely to rush what you are doing, or make mistakes, or getting distracted by your rumbling tummy. You won't be alert.

And if some workers don't have time for breakfast before work, what if you provided breakfast at work? Well, it worked at the Olympics! They offered porridge and fixed the morning accident problem.*

The workers were coming into work for three hours suffering really low blood sugar. We had canteens offering porridge for a £1 and accidents in the morning went down.

This is a winning health and safety strategy because it:

And it wouldn't be a far reach to suggest that improved concentration wouldn't just have health and safety benefits. The project would also get more productive workers with higher energy levels in the morning.

Breakfast and health

Notice how the Olympic Delivery Authority offered porridge for breakfast? It's warm, useful when you're working outside on a cold construction site in the morning. And, it's healthy. Because the breakfast strategy wasn't just about reducing accidents, it was also because more than a quarter of the workforce was obese.

With such a wide range of breakfast foods on offer, not all of them are healthy. And although there has been an increased awareness around the sugar content in breakfast cereals, and healthier alternatives, workers pushed for time in the morning are less likely to spend the time cooking up a bowl of porridge at home. If they find time for breakfast at all, they are more likely to go for something quick and easy, which doesn't always equal healthy.

One of the latest statistics that is giving many healthcare professionals real cause for concern is that British children under 10 years of age are currently consuming more than 50% of the recommended daily allowance of sugar at breakfast (c. 11 g) in the form of sugary cereals, drinks, and spreads.

Of course, a healthy diet involves more than just breakfast. But, while you might not be able to make all of the food choices for your workers, you can offer them a healthy start to their day. And by promoting healthy choices, you can encourage workers to make positive changes in other areas.

Breakfast might not be the only health and safety measure you need on-site, and it's certainly not the only thing you will need to prevent accidents. But it shows how the health of your team and factors outside of work can impact safety on site. And something as simple as a bowl of porridge can be the start of big health and safety improvements.

If you're looking for other ways you can improve health and safety, here are 11 Free Ways To Improve Construction Site Safety.

*There were many excellent health and safety strategies involved in London 2012 and breakfast was not the only strategy. The team invested in creating a positive health and safety culture from organisation commitments, developing safe behaviour and attitudes, employee engagement, providing resources and developing systems.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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