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Did you know there is an average of 64,000 non-fatal injuries to Construction workers each year?

Although there have been big improvements over the last few years in reducing the number and rate of injuries to construction workers, construction still remains a high-risk industry and accounts for a high percentage of fatal and major injuries. What is less recognised is that construction is a high-risk industry for health issues too. Every year more working days are lost due to work-related illness compared to injuries according to HSE statistics.

HSE (Health & Safety Executive) inspectors will be carrying out health visits throughout October at construction sites across the country and they will be targeted on their health standards in an HSE campaign to tackle the dangers of site dust. It is the first time the regulator has targeted the industry with a specific focus on respiratory risks and occupational lung disease.

The HSE Inspectors will be focusing on measures firms have in place to protect their workers’ lungs from the likes of asbestos, silica and wood dust.

HSE’s Peter Baker, chief inspector of construction said: “Around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are killed in construction accidents. Annually, work-related cancers, mainly linked to asbestos and silica, are estimated to kill 3,500 people from the industry. Ultimately, construction workers’ lungs need to be protected from ill health, so they can go home healthy to their families and enjoy long careers in this important industry.”

The statistics reveal that construction workers have a high risk of developing diseases from a number of health issues:

  • Cancer– construction has the largest burden of occupational cancer amongst the industrial sectors. It accounts for over 40% of occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations. It is estimated that past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and approximately 3,700 deaths.  The most significant cause of these cancers is asbestos (70%) followed by silica (17%) working as a painter and diesel engine exhaust (6-7% each).
  • Hazardous substances– dusts, chemicals and potentially harmful mixtures (eg in paints) are common in construction work. Some processes emit dusts, fumes, vapours or gases into the air and these can be significant causes of breathing problems and lung diseases. A number of construction-related occupations also have high rates of dermatitis from skin exposures to hazardous substances.
  • Physical health risks– skilled construction and building trades are one of the occupations with the highest estimated prevalence of back injuries and upper limb disorders. Manual handling is the most commonly reported cause of over seven day injuries in the industry. Construction also has one of highest rates of ill health caused by noise and vibration.

The risks of ill health can be managed by following some simple steps which follow a few essential common principles:

  • ‘Ill-health can be prevented’– it is possible and practical to carry out construction work without causing ill-health.
  • ‘Treat health like safety’– managing health risks is no different to managing safety risks. Follow the Assess, Control, Review
  • ‘Everyone has a role to play’– everyone involved in construction has a responsibility in managing risks to health. Each must take ownership of their part of the process.
  • ‘Control the risk, not the symptoms’– monitoring and health surveillance programmes are not enough on their own. While they are an effective part of managing health risks, the first priority is to stop people being exposed to the risk in the first place.
  • ‘Manage risk, not lifestyles’– the law requires steps to be taken to prevent or adequately control work-related health risks. Helping workers tackle lifestyle issues like smoking or diet may be beneficial but is not a substitute for this.

Not adequately controlling health risks can cost you:

  • Human cost– every case of occupational disease means someone is needlessly suffering. It may also affect friends and loved ones.
  • Financial cost– managing workplace health helps employers retain experienced and skilled workers
  • Reputational cost– HSE treats non-compliance with health issues very seriously. HSE places enforcement notices on the Public Register and this could affect your reputation.

There is standard guidance on what to expect when a Health and Safety inspector calls on your business, available on the HSE website 

We are a leading provider of Health & Safety Consultancy in the South West and offer our Hassle Free retained service for the Construction, Building and Trades sector. We provide individuals and organisations with practical advice, support and guidance without long contracts and our consultants supporting this industry have worked in a variety of roles on site.  They understand at first hand the very real risks employees face and the challenges you can face getting the message across.  Likewise, they appreciate what it’s like to be kicked off-site because asbestos awareness training is out of date or placed on stop because you never did get around to completing that supplier questionnaire. We can also support with SSIP schemes and a monthly toolbox talk for you to share with your staff . Click here to find out more about how we can help

We can also carry out Face Fit testing and provide IATP Asbestos Awareness training. If we can support you in any way, please get in touch now.