Last edited 22 Jan 2016

Summit held to tackle occupational health issues

On 21st January 2016, a summit meeting of 171 industry chief executives and senior leaders gathered to sign a pledge committing their organisations to ‘eliminate occupational ill health and disease in [my] company and from the industry.’

The Committing Construction to a Healthier Future summit was held in response to the drive towards parity of focus and attention between health issues and safety, which speakers asserted had long been inadequately balanced. The statistics painted a stark picture of how much improvement needs to be made to redress these ongoing issues:

  • Work-related cancers kill around 3,500 construction workers a year, three times higher than in any other employment sector.
  • 500,000 working days were lost to injury in 2014/15, but 1.2 mn to work-related ill health.
  • Work-related ill health cost the UK economy £9.4 bn in 2014/15, and the construction sector £1.3 bn.
  • Asbestos-induced diseases kill 20 tradespeople each week.

Organised by the new Health in Construction Leadership Group (CHLG), the campaign plans to develop an action strategy to debate at a follow-up summit in April 2016. The plan is to focus on existing measures that are known to have some success, such as more on-site health risks being designed out by specialists, and to mandate the use of new measuring technology to monitor and record progress in areas such as emissions and dust.

One of the central figures behind the campaign and Balfour Beatty’s director of health and safety, Heather Bryant said: “Today is about equalising health with safety because we not only want to leave a legacy in the things we construct, but a legacy for the people who help construct them. We are constructing the health, or the ill health, of the future. We are still exposing people to asbestos and other hazards, and we have three times as many occupational cancers as in any other sector.”

Crossrail’s chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme, said: “...major programmes carry a responsibility for tackling health risks, and [Crossrail] have trialed innovations such as ‘digibands’ for workers to monitor the impact of shift patterns, and using robotic drills to eliminate worker exposure to hand-arm vibration and dust through drilling….It’s no good giving people fruit and porridge as they come through the turnstile if we’re then giving them exposure to dust and carcinogens”.

The CHLG was established in 2015, and the chair Clive Johnson pointed out that a main objective would be to unravel confusion surrounding the terms ‘occupational health’, ‘well-being’ and ‘occupational hygiene’, which is concerned with the removal or modification of workplace risks.