How the UK construction industry can build a healthier workforce for the future was the topic of an Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) seminar held in London yesterday (Monday 12 October).
The event provided delegates with a broad understanding of the health risks involved in construction activities, and the often simple steps that can be taken to eliminate or control them.
Occupational health issues, including manual handling injuries and how workers’ mental state can impact on their ability to do the job safely, were among the topics debated during the event at Millwall FC’s The New Den stadium.
A key theme throughout proceedings was how to control the health risks that construction dust poses to workers.
Chris Lucas, HM Inspector of Health and Safety at HSE, said: “It is not always what you can see that is the problem; it is what you can’t see. One of the reasons construction workers are at risk is that they are doing the same job day in, day out, and it can lead to an accumulation of dust in their respiratory system over the years.
“Dust is sometimes seen as tomorrow’s problem but it soon catches up with you.”
An award-winning creation to tackle the risk of construction dust becoming airborne was presented to delegates by a team of students from Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet, North London.
The students’ water-fed broom, developed with the help of affordable housing developer Lovell, won a contest run by the Engineering Development Trust earlier this year.
Team member William Forrester said: “We started off with very little knowledge of the entire construction industry. With the help of Lovell and other experts in the sector, it has become a large part of our lives.”
IOSH London Metropolitan Branch Vice-Chair, Sue Manthorpe, said the project offered a “simple solution to a chronic problem” in the sector, adding that it was a “fantastic example” of the industry involving the next generation to make it safer and healthier.
Elsewhere, Alan Cheung, Director of Behavioural Safety at Costain, highlighted how culture can affect a business’s outcomes. He said: “To change worker behaviour you have to change your own behaviour first.
“The reality is what you pay attention to as a leader is absolutely what the rest of the organisation will pay attention to. The performance of your team is a direct reflection of you and the environment you create.”
Jennie Armstrong, Occupational Health Lead at Mace, also promoted the BOHS’s Breathe Freely campaign to raise awareness of occupational lung disease in construction.
Over 5,500 construction workers develop occupational cancers a year, she said, caused by exposes to risk factors including asbestos, silica and wood dusts and welding and paint fumes.
Jennie added: “The thing with these diseases is that they are all 100 per cent preventable. It is about evaluating the risk and putting in control measures.”
The event was jointly hosted by IOSH’s London Metropolitan Branch and Construction and Health and Social Care Groups and also included discussions around managing contractors, hand protection, dealing with asbestos and the CDM 2015 Regulations.