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Malcolm Moss, President of ADCAS, discusses the steps being taken to improve health and safety in construction.

The construction industry has always been, and will continue to be, a dangerous place to work. Working at height, working with heavy objects, power tools, machinery, dust and electricity are just some of the main factors that make construction sites rife with potential hazards.

In the UK we can be proud of the way we have led by example when it comes to improving construction site safety – take the two most recent Olympic Games as an example. While there were no fatalities reported during the building of the Olympic Park for the London Games, a report released Rio de Janeiro’s Regional Labor and Employment Office in April 2016 listed 11 fatalities related to Games-related projects.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has gone a long way toward protecting the health, safety and welfare of employees in their place of work, and the modern advancements in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are a far cry from the days of ill-fitting jeans, caps and old torn t-shirts being worn on site. However, we still have a tendency to be slow on the uptake of things that can make our workplace safer. As recently as the 1980s you would still see a majority of workers on site without a hard hat and even now you will find workers on small private jobs unwilling to wear one – perhaps citing discomfort as their reason.

Although it is virtually impossible to find a construction site that is 100% safe from any type of risk there is still a lot more we can do to help us get as near as we possibly can. While all the safety measures imaginable can be put in place on site physically, whether it’s safety barriers, harnesses, hi-vis clothing, hard hats, sufficient lighting, noise protection or clear walkways, it is vital to consider the impact a worker’s health – physical or mental – can have on themselves and their colleagues.

Compared to all of the immediately obvious threats on site mentioned earlier, a worker’s medical health could be described as a ‘hidden danger’ because the employee themselves might not even be aware of an illness they are carrying. If the illness has the potential to affect their physical ability on site, this will obviously present far greater danger than if they worked in, say, an office environment.

The mental health of an employee should not be ignored either, and this has been a subject that has gained much more prominence since a report, Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers, was commissioned by Prime Minister Theresa May in January 2017, and written by Lord Dennis Stevenson (mental health campaigner and former HBOS chief) and Paul Farmer (chief executive of the mental health charity Mind). In the past, mental health has, sadly, been something of a taboo subject in all walks of life. The construction industry for a long time has held an image of an environment dominated by tough, confident men, where an admission of weakness, whether mental or physical, is rarely volunteered by an individual, as they may fear it will be received negatively by their employer and among colleagues. Thankfully, attitudes are changing and a lot more obligation is placed upon the employer to ensure they have a fit and healthy workforce.

Under current Health and Safety legislation, employers have a duty of care to safeguard the health and safety of their employees. This is particularly relevant to those carrying out safety-critical tasks. It is important that safety-critical workers are not suffering from medical conditions or undergoing any medical treatment which is likely to cause sudden loss of consciousness or incapacity, impairment of awareness, concentration, balance or coordination or significant limitation of mobility.

The term ‘safety critical work’ is defined as:
“Where the ill health of an individual may compromise their ability to undertake a task defined as safety critical, thereby posing a significant risk to the health and safety of others.”

A medical, such as a fitness-for-task health check, as identified in the National Industry Standards for Occupational Health and Constructing Better Health, will go a long way towards ensuring these legal requirements are met.

Employee medicals will vary but will typically cover a variety of tests, including a mental health assessment, blood pressure measurement, a muscular skeletal assessment, hearing and vision, and urinalysis for diabetes or other health issues. By providing these tests for your workforce you are not only fulfilling your duty of care as employer, having a detailed overview of your workforce’s health levels will help you plan ahead for any prolonged periods of absence. Most importantly, you are ensuring that you have a safer, more efficient and happier workforce.

Key figures for Great Britain (2016/17) from the Health and Safety Executive

  • 3 millionworking people suffering from a work-related illness 
  • 2,542mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposures (2015)
  • 137workers killed at work
  • 609,000injuries occurred at work according to the Labour Force Survey
  • 70,116injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR
  • 2 millionworking days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury 
  • £14.9 billionestimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2015/16).

 

 
 
 

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