The HSE recently released the latest health and safety statistics for the construction industry, indicating we have a long way to go to achieve an industry free from ill-health and disease.
When compared to the same figures released one year ago, there are some small signs of improvement, but for some illnesses, the situation appears to have worsened.
Some of the headlines:
Thoughts and observations from the HCLG
Through the work of our ‘data task group’, as HCLG we are working to improve how we use data to help determine where we should be focusing our efforts in terms of key themes and preventative measures.
- Having looked at this latest HSE data, we are of the view that the increase in the numbers of cases of stress, anxiety and depression reflects a truer picture of the industry – an increase in awareness and understanding of mental health appears to be resulting in the creation of environments in our workplaces where more people feel able to speak up, hence resulting in more cases of stress/anxiety/depression being recorded.
- We also feel that there is a growing acceptance in the industry of a link between stress, depression and anxiety and MSD’s. As HCLG we will be exploring this further during 2019 as we increase our efforts on reducing MSD’s and understanding the relationship between these conditions. Whilst fatigue is not referenced in the report, some organisations are focusing on factors such as fatigue and working hours in their bid to tackle MSDs and mental ill-health.
- The report also highlights some work activities which have an increased risk for specific illnesses; electricians and electrical fitters, carpenters and joiners, and painters and decorators are particularly susceptible to asthma; Those at risk from developing contact dermatitis include painters and decorators, carpenters and joiners, floorers and wall tilers. It is also worth noting that bricklayers and masons are less likely to suffer from contact dermatitis, which could be due to better protection from exposure to chromates following changes to EU legislation. However, they are the occupations most commonly associated with silicosis, with 26% of actual reported cases between 2006-2015.
Our role in changing this picture
Since HCLG formed in 2014, we have been working to unite the construction industry in a bid to eradicate ill-health and disease on construction sites, by raising awareness of the issues, sharing good practice and lessons learnt, and signposting to resources and expertise. These latest figures show that there is still much work to be done and it’s vital we continue to work together and lead the way, helping to raise standards across the wider industry.
We now have over 165 companies signed up as members of the HCLG, and are we are working hard to bring more companies on board – membership is free and open to anyone with an interest in improving health in construction. We also have established links with other key organisations including (but not limited to), Association for Product Safety (APS), British Safety Council (BSC), Build UK, B & CE, Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Construction Clients' Leadership Group (CCLG), Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Institute of Chartered Engineers (ICE) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), where we work closely on common industry initiatives when appropriate.
It is encouraging to see the percentage of cases of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) has reduced over the past year, but there are still 51,000 cases, which is around three fifths of all ill-health in the sector. Construction accounts for a higher proportion of musculoskeletal disorders than in all industries (44%).
Our MSDs task group is working with the Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC) and other groups on ways to change the industry in making improvements.
An example is our Plasterboard Material Handling Group, whose role is to help unify the plasterboard industry, including manufacturers, in its approach to worker health, to include healthy design, safe and healthy installation, and the promotion, adoption and implementation of best practice processes and initiatives. A Plasterboard Handling Guidance Document is being produced and will be available shortly.
Mental health continues to be an area of focus for the HCLG, and we are committed to promoting good mental health and reducing mental ill health in the construction industry.
Ultimately, the HCLG encourages construction employers to have in place a mental health programme which drives a culture of speaking up, and where design and construction programmes and workplace arrangements are implemented in such a way that the mental health and wellbeing of the workers is safeguarded and protected.
Many organisations have developed and run their own Mental health programmes and HCLG has worked with Mates in Mind’to develop an industry-wide framework and programme for construction employers to adopt in order to achieve this, The scheme has already reached 150,000 individuals since its launch almost 2 years ago, and continues to grow.
Another key focus area is lung disease – whilst the number of workers suffering with lung diseases has stayed the same over the past year at 3,000, this is 3,000 cases too many, because they are preventable when the right control measures are in place.
HCLG continues to support a number of campaigns aimed at helping construction employers to understand the causes of lung disease and how to control the exposures, including the BOHS’ Breathe Freely campaign, IOSH’s No Time To Lose Campaign, and the Construction Dust Partnership to name a few. HCLG will continue to support these and other initiatives and facilitate the sharing of good practice examples and guidance materials.
We have to protect our workforce, we have a legal as well as a moral obligation to do so – so let’s continue to work together and strive to eradicate ill-health and disease from our industry.
There is a wealth of resources available to help construction employers to better understand the risks to health on their sites and how they can protect their workers from them. The HCLG continues to develop case study examples of good practice, all freely available here.
We urge our members and partners to continue to work with us to develop further examples, and to cascade these through our supply chains so that the good practice becomes more widespread, and the poor practice is eventually eliminated altogether.