Yesterday, Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety – the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – began a month-long campaign focusing on construction firms.
Throughout October, HSE inspectors will be visiting construction firms to make sure their health standards are up to scratch and, in particular, they will focus on respiratory risks and occupational lung disease.
Why is the HSE concentrating on construction firms?
One of the main reasons the HSE is concentrating on construction firms is that more than 3,500 builders die each year from cancers related to their work, with thousands more cases of ill-health and working days lost.
This initiative is part of HSE’s longer term health and work strategy to improve health within the construction industry.
It will be supported by HSE’s WorkRight campaign, aimed at influencing employer behaviour by encouraging builders to download free guidance and advice, increasing knowledge and capability to protect workers’ health.
HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Sarah Jardine, said: “Around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are actually killed in construction accidents.
“Our inspection initiatives ensure that inspectors are able to speak to duty holders and visit sites to look at the kind of action businesses in the construction industry are taking right now to protect their workers’ health, particularly when it comes to exposure to dust and damage to lungs. These are mature health challenges that the industry ought to be managing effectively.
“There are a few simple things that everyone can do to make sure they are protecting their health and their future. Be aware of the risks associated with activities you do every day, recognise the dangers of hazardous dust and consider how it can affect your health. We want businesses and their workers to think of the job from start to finish and avoid creating dust by working in different ways to keep dust down and wear the right protective equipment.”
Why should construction firms take the management of silica, asbestos and wood dust seriously?
Construction firms need to protect their employees from silica, asbestos and wood dust because they can cause serious, and even life-threatening diseases.
For example, workers who inhale large amounts of crystalline silica dust can develop the long-term lung disease silicosis. Once inside the lungs it causes swelling and gradually causes areas of hardened and scarred lung tissue which doesn’t function properly. The condition can ultimately be fatal if the lungs stop working properly or if serious complications develop. It can also increase someone’s risk of getting other serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as tuberculosis, pulmonary hypertension, heart failure, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
Exposure to asbestos can cause a number of serious conditions, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a serious lung condition caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that mainly affects the lining of the lungs, although it can also affect the lining of the tummy, heart or testicles. More than 2,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with it every year and, unfortunately, it’s rarely possible to cure mesothelioma.
Wood dust can also cause serious health problems, such as asthma. As a result, carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to develop asthma than other UK workers.
Who is supporting the construction firms campaign?
The HSE is being supported by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) and Tier 1 industry contractors. Throughout October 2021, HCLG members will carry out more than 1,000 site visits to assess the effectiveness of measures in place to controls workers’ exposure to respiratory risks from dust. Findings from site visits and a survey will allow the industry to feed into HSE’s broader commitment to improve the health of construction workers by providing the HSE with a wider dataset to evaluate ongoing practices across the industry.
HSE and industry Insights will support the HSE’s strategic plan to broaden the range and depth of future regulatory health interventions.
Should construction firms look at other areas of health and safety during the campaign?
While the primary focus will be on health during this programme of inspections, if an inspector identifies any other areas of concern, including immediate safety risks, they will take the necessary action to deal with them.
Inspectors will be looking for evidence of employers and workers knowing the risks, planning their work and using the right controls. If necessary, they will use enforcement to make sure people are protected.
If health and safety law breaches are found, they could lead to construction sites being closed and construction firms being prosecuted and fined. Construction firm bosses and managers could also find themselves facing custodial sentences.
What can construction firms do to prepare for inspections?
One of the simplest things a construction firm can do to make sure they are prepared for health and safety inspections is to hire a team of health and safety experts, such as Acorn Safety Services. We are a UK-wide health and safety consultancy and help companies to comply with the latest legislation about health and safety, Construction Design & Management (CDM), fire risk assessments and workplace regulations.
One of the many services that we provide is Construction Health and Safety Inspections and Audits for all types of construction firms and sites across the UK. This service prevents construction firms from falling foul of the law and prosecutions and protects employees.
If your construction firm isn’t on top of its health and safety requirements we’d strongly advise you not to delay in getting touch with us. The HSE gave prior warning about their October campaign, so construction firms are not going to have an excuse if they are in breach of health and safety law when the inspectors come calling.