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UK construction industry unites to reduce respiratory disease

Over 150 leaders responsible for Health and Safety in the UK construction industry today (21 April) met to agree plans to address the shocking statistic that UK construction workers are 100 times more likely to die from work-related ill health than accidents.

In the construction sector there were 35 fatal accidents during 2014/15. In the same period it is estimated that around 4,000 construction workers died from cancer caused by their exposure to hazardous substances while at work. The majority of these cases are lung diseases caused by exposure to asbestos (2,600 deaths) and silica (600 deaths).

In the same period around 3,000 workers in the Construction sector were suffering with breathing and lung problems they believed were caused or made worse by their work, a rate significantly higher than the average across all industries. 20% of workers identified ‘dusts from stone, cement, bricks or concrete’ as a contributing factor.

As Health and Safety Executive research shows most occupational ill health is preventable, the construction industry is uniting in a bid to replicate the huge cultural shift in safety that led to an 80% reduction in workplace fatalities over the last 40 years.

Andy Mitchell, CEO of Tideway said: “Britain has a proud record on safety – it’s one of the best in the world. Our challenge is how we bring health on a par with safety. We now need to make transformational changes to eradicate the ill health effects caused by the work we do, and treat health like safety.

“It’s through industry events like that of the Health in Construction Leadership Group, that we can share good practice and reach a collective agreement on the best ways to help ensure our workers are working in not just a safe environment, but a healthy one too.”

The second Health in Construction event, titled ‘Committing Construction to a Healthier Future - from commitment into action’, follows on from the inaugural event held in January 2016, when over 150 Chief Executives signed a charter committing to improving occupational health.

During today’s event, industry leaders discussed an integrated approach to managing health in the sector and ways to reduce the risk of developing respiratory disease. Those present took away self-assessment tools to develop action plans for their organisations.

Key speakers included Dr Richard Judge, HSE Chief Executive; Professor Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge and a special advisor to the Department of Health and Public Health England, and founding members of the Health in Construction Leadership Group Heather Bryant of Balfour Beatty and Clive Johnson of Land Securities.

The Health in Construction events are being organised by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG), which comprises contractors, clients, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), professional bodies, trade associations and trade unions.

The group’s mission is to unite the construction industry in eradicating ill health and disease caused by exposure to health hazards, with a view to ensuring construction is the leading industry for occupational health and disease prevention.

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