Occupational Health and Safety for Construction Companies and why it is important.

As a construction company you have probably been focussing on safety on your sites i.e reducing the number of accidents and near misses etc. This focus on Safety is typical of most construction companies and has resulted in a reduction in workplace fatalities since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc in 1974 from a high of 650 in 1974 to 144 in 2015/2016.

This focus, driven by the HSE has resulted in the UK construction industry having a safety record that is looked upon with envy by much of the world.

However, whilst this achievement is commendable, the focus on safety has inadvertently neglected the health part of ‘Health & Safety’.

This is where the management of Occupational Health comes in and this is now a key priority for all businesses especially construction companies.


What is Occupational Health?

Occupational Health is concerned with work related illnesses and this has now become a major issue. In 2014/2015 for example it is estimated that 1.2 million people were suffering from an illness that they felt was caused or made worse by their work, and with thousands more dying from work-related cancers it is inevitable that something has to be done.

Employers have a moral and legal obligation to do whatever is reasonably practicable to ensure that they are taking all the appropriate measures to prevent work-related ill health.

Duty of Care:

All employers have a common-law duty of care to their employees. In addition, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) every employer has a duty to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees are protected.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 were introduced to reinforce the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The MHSWR places duties on employers and employees including those who are clients, designers, principal contractors or other contractors including:

check mark Undertaking an assessment of the risks to health and safety of their employees and others who may be affected by their work activity.
check mark Adapting the work to the individual, especially as regards the design of workplaces, the choice of work equipment and the choice of working and production methods
check mark Undertaking any health surveillance as is necessary regarding the employees when it has been determined by the risk assessment.

In addition to the above duties there are a number of other legal duties imposed on employers relating to common health problems including:

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) are concerned with musculo-skeletal disorder (MSD) problems. Identifying work-related health risks may not be straightforward, but there are a number of sources that can be used.

In order to safeguard workers, the cause of occupational health risks must first be known. Once the main risks, which include musculo-skeletal disorders as well as potential complications caused by excessive dust and noise, are determined then action can be taken to risk assess these areas individually in the same way as safety issues.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) deals with, among other things, substances that cause asthma. This includes an extensive list ranging from chemicals used for industrial processes to everyday items found in a working environment such as the by-products of certain food types, as well as paint additives and office cleaning products. COSHH also covers fumes, dusts, vapours and gases.


Hazardous Liquids health and safety

It is essential to determine the personnel who may be exposed to these risks and also the likely exposure and potential consequences of contact with these substances. This information can then be used to induct / inform new starters or ensure that people who may have suffered work related illnesses or have pre-existing medical conditions are not adversely affected by their working environment or the substances materials they use as part of their job.

Attendance Monitoring:

Effective monitoring of sickness absence can be a useful resource for companies concerned with the health and well-being of its employees and can be a good method of identifying trends and identifying health related issues.

Careful analysis of these records can help identify if certain roles or tasks have higher incidences of absence which may indicate possible occupational health risks and can help companies take action to prevent long term issues with employees health.

Analysis may pick up a number of causes of accidents / ill health including high levels of back pain, work related upper limb disorder symptoms or stress associated with certain roles or tasks.

More detail may be available from medically-certificated absences, which tend to be over seven days, than from self-certificated absence. However, it is important to bear in mind that absence certificates are mainly completed by GPs who have little experience or training in occupational health. Some sensitivity may also be needed about personal information for individuals that is protected by data protection laws.

Safe Working Environment:

Schedule 1 of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 outlines some ‘General Principles of Prevention’ which if followed can help create a safe working environment for employees and others.

The Principles of Prevention generally range from removing the hazard, combating the risk at source, replacing the dangerous with less dangerous down to individual PPE which should always be the last resource.

Communication is key to good occupational health management. Managers and workers should be able to communicate openly and honestly about health and safety issues and many companies have open-door consultation processes in place.

Never be afraid to ask for advice on these issues.

How can I get help or advice?

Should you require any further information, guidance or help on any of the above please do not hesitate to contact Green Hat Consulting at  enquiries@greenhat-consulting.co.uk and one of our experienced consultants will be able to help you.

Written by:

Ian James Photograph

Ian James

MCIOB BSc (Hons)

Technical Director