There have been huge improvements over the last number of years in reducing the number of accidents and injuries to workers, however what is less recognised is that the construction site can still pose a significant risk in relation to health issues also.
Below are some key points about these risks, why they are so significant and some information on how we might manage them.
The HSE in the UK have published statistics and they 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.
So what can we do?
The risks of ill health can be managed by following the simple steps outlined below:
- ‘Treat health like safety’ – managing health risks is no different to managing safety risks.
- ‘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. From the client to the PSDP & Designers to the PSCS down to the contractor and site operatives delivering the project.
- ‘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 the onsite management of health risks.
For further information in relation to what You can do to tackle Health in your workplace please contact any of the CMSE Consultancy team CMSE Consultants by email at [email protected] or by phone at 021 4978100.
CMSE Consultancy provides consultancy, training and support service to our clients nationwide.