Committing Construction to a Healthier Future Summit

Committing Construction to a Healthier Future Summit

16th February 2016

The construction industry is on a health crusade as companies within the sector have banded together in order to launch an important new initiative to transform the industry’s occupational health record.  With more than 3.500 deaths every year from construction related diseases and ill health costing the industry more than 69,000 lost days annually (costing £1.3 billion in lost productivity), this couldn’t have come soon enough.  It’s hoped that this latest drive will mirror the safety summit that took place in February 2001 which galvanised contractors into tackling the poor safety record that had dogged the construction sector.

This latest initiative has seen chief executives committing to raise occupational health as a boardroom priority and launch an all-out offensive to tackle industrial diseases such as mesothelioma (which accounts for 2.600 deaths every year).  Workers in the construction industry suffer three times more occupational health cancers than any other industry here in the UK and this is unacceptable.  Steve Hails, Crossrail Health and Safety Director of Crossrail, says that “the industry tends to shout about construction safety but whispers about health” – this needs to change. 

The inaugural Construction Health Summit took place on 21st January and the main topic of focus was the everyday health risks associated with working in the construction industry.  Nearly 200 business leaders were in attendance at the Committing Construction to a Healthier Future Summit which was organised by the Health in Construction Leadership Group which comprises contractors, clients, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), trade associations, professional bodies and trade unions.  Industry leaders signed a pledge to eliminate occupational ill health and disease from the construction sector which speakers included Judith Hackitt CBE (Chair of the HSE), the Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, and Sir Malcolm Grant, Chairman of the NHS in England.

It’s anticipated that by signing the pledge, the construction industry will enjoy a cultural shift that would lead to dramatic reductions in on-site injuries and fatalities.  Judith Hackitt revealed that the number of on-site injuries has been reduced by two thirds over the past ten years as a result of a concerted effort by the industry.  It’s hoped that a similar impact on the health of the workforce can be achieved with a determined effort by the industry and all of its supporting organisations. 

Occupational health problems related to construction work include:

  • Breathing and lung problems that result from inhaling dust and diesel emissions
  • Skin inflammations such as dermatitis caused by exposure to hazardous materials
  • Back injuries and limb problems resulting from prolonged use of vibrating machinery or manual handling of heavy loads.

The Summit explored the root causes of the 1.2 million lost working days due to work related ill health in order to raise awareness of the burden borne by construction workers and the sector as a whole.  While we don’t expect miracles or instant change, we do predict that health and well-being at work will see a steady and gradual improvement in future as a result of this Summit