Construction - Steering Towards A Safer Future

Construction - Steering Towards A Safer Future

01st June 2015

Two topics that are currently sparking off debates in the construction industry are the new Construction, Design and Management (CDM) regulations and occupational health.  According to the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), construction is still a high risk industry – it accounts for 27% of work-related fatalities and 10% of major injuries while employing only 5% of the UK workforce. 

In April, the revised legislation for Construction, Design and Management (CDM) came into force which will have a discernible impact on the industry, especially on the small to medium enterprises (SMEs).  The changes in legislation are likely to represent a challenge for health and safety professionals within the construction industry and businesses will need to adopt a considered approach to construction health and safety risk management.  While smaller, simple projects should only require the production of short and simple construction phase plans and the provision of clear information from designers on the significant design risk issues, this approach relies on construction health and safety practitioners to ensure that they do not create unnecessary levels of bureaucracy when advising clients, contractors and designers. 

Occupational health is becoming increasingly important in the construction sector with occupational ill health on the rise.  The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently reported that more construction workers have been killed as a result of contracting occupational cancer than have been killed in accidents in the workplace.  During 2012 – 2013 for every fatal accident approximately 100 construction workers died from a work related cancer.  These figures are pretty alarming and irreversible, long-latency disease is becoming a high priority within the industry.  Even very low levels of asbestos exposure (inhaling as few as 3 or 4 fibres) can lead to mesothelioma (asbestos related cancer).

We’ve already warned of the dangers of construction dust in a recent blog post and tackling this issue successfully will require a cultural shift within the industry and its associated supply chains.  When designing projects, the architects at the top of the supply change are being urged to consider occupational health risks more seriously.  At the other end of the supply chain, supervisors and workers need to take on board just how important it is to control exposure to dust and the need for the appropriate respiratory protection equipment (RPE).  Tool manufacturers and suppliers will also need to play their part by building in exposure controls as standard on power tools, especially those that are already known to generate high dust exposure – tools such as sanders and circular saws.

The construction industry has already proved that significant health and safety improvements are possible with an impressive decline in the number of fall from height fatalities in recent years.  The industry as a whole already recognises the risks associated with asbestos and there’s little need to devise new technological solutions to the problem of exposure control – it’s just necessary to ensure that the recognised solutions are properly implemented.

No doubt here in the UK, health and safety within the construction industry will carry on improving as it has done in recent years.  Stringent legislation with regards to health and safety in the workplace means that the UK is one of the safest countries in the world in which to work.