Last edited 15 Dec 2015

Occupational health risk management in construction. A guide to the key issues of occupational health provision

In November 2015, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published ‘Occupational health risk management in construction. A guide to the key issues of occupational health provision’ prepared by the Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC) Health Risks Working Group. Ref HSE, New construction guidance to stop workers dying each week from occupational disease, 20 November 2015.

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The Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC) advises the HSE on the protection of people at work and others from hazards to health and safety within the building, civil engineering and engineering construction industries.

The 20-page guide provides advice on assessing the risks to health in the construction industry and the role of the occupational health service in preventing or controlling those risks. It is aimed at employers, but is also relevant to directors, health and safety professionals, safety representatives and occupational health service providers.

According to the guide, ‘Occupational ill health refers to all health problems in the work environment. The term covers health problems workers bring to the workplace, as well as health issues caused or made worse by work. It covers serious and fatal diseases, physical effects on skin, breathing, hearing, mobility and functioning, and psychological effects on mental wellbeing. Effects may be immediate and visible, but are more often unseen and take a long time to develop, so vigilance and monitoring can be key to identifying problems. Some effects can be cured if diagnosed early; many can only be prevented from getting worse. Of course, some diseases are terminal.’

In construction, key risks include:

  • Exposure to asbestos, dusts including silica and lead, chemicals, sunlight and diesel engine exhaust emissions.
  • Frequent loud noise.
  • Frequent or excessive use of vibrating tools.
  • Frequent or excessive manual handling of loads.
  • Stress and fatigue.

The publication provides guidance about:

  • How to assess the risks to workers.
  • Occupational health risk management.
  • Worker involvement and consultation.
  • Hiring an occupational health service provider.
  • Different kinds of occupational health provision.
  • Types of health surveillance.
  • Asking the right questions when buying occupational health services.
  • Making sure providers can carry out the required occupational health services.
  • What to expect from an occupational health service provider.
  • What to do about restrictions on certain workers’ exposures or tasks.
  • What to do once a competent provider has been found.
  • What to do where there is more than one occupational health service provider.
  • Other health promotion and fitness-for-work programmes.

Publication of the guide followed reports that HSE inspectors had issued more than 200 health-related enforcement notices during a recent construction inspection initiative. The HSE suggest that this points to a “...widespread misunderstanding of what ‘occupational health’ means in the construction sector and the employers’ misguided perception that health is more difficult to manage than safety”.

CONIAC chair, Ian Strudley said, “The misunderstanding of occupational health within the construction sector means that whilst the industry focuses on managing the more familiar safety issues, serious health risks get ignored. We cannot let this continue.“

Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) executive director Shelley Frost said, “There have been huge advances in improving safety in the construction sector over the last 15 years but the industry has yet to generate such advances in improving the picture in occupational health. Every week, 100 people die from construction-related ill health in the UK. Less than half of construction workers also stay employed in the industry until they are 60.”

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