12th June Journal Column

APSBy Phillippa Webb, Associate CK21 and NE Chair of Association of Project Safety (APS)

Health and safety is relevant to all businesses, but it is particularly important in the construction industry.

Businesses tend to focus on safety rather than health. There have been big improvements and preventions put in place recently to reduce the number of construction related injuries, although health issues still continue to affect workers.

Those working in the construction industry make up only five per cent of UK workers; however they make up 27 per cent of work related fatality cases and 10 per cent of major injuries in the workplace.

The main health risks relating to construction work range from; cancer to work related stress and asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and 3,700 deaths. The most significant cause of these cancers is asbestos.

Asbestos is the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers and can cause two types of cancer: mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer, both of which are almost always fatal.

Although it is no longer used, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It’s difficult to just avoid asbestos as fragments can be found in rubble and soil and aren’t always visible. This, along with other issues such as silca dust requires constant vigilance from the industry.

It’s important to make employers and employees aware of the risks in order to prevent them, which is why I’m a big advocate for UK Health and Safety Week. Taking place from 15-19 June it will celebrate the achievements of UK practitioners and this year will be focusing on protecting workers’ health. APS is also integrally involved in the Construction Health Leadership Group which is looking to wake the industry up to the huge issues of health.

The Health and Safety Executive suggest you assess, control and then review the plans put in place to control construction health risks. It suggests the following tips to keep you safe:

  • Plan– your overall strategy
  • Identify – the health hazards linked to your work
  • Assess– the significance of these hazards
  • Involve– workers in managing health risks

Once all controls are in place it is essential to monitor that they are all working, continuously supervising workers and monitoring and maintaining controls. These are all simple and easy ways to reduce the risk of health problems for workers.

Managing health and safety is literally a matter of life or death, it’s vital, especially in our industry and businesses would be careless not to take the necessary steps to prevent health risks.