Health conditions at construction sites are so poor that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has instructed its inspectors to look at health, as well as safety, hazards during their site visits until April 2015. The HSE will, warned its outgoing Chief Inspector of Construction, Heather Bryant, “make sure the construction industry ‘thinks health’ as well as safety”. A four-week series of inspections is now running until 17 October 2014 (see below).
Ms Bryant made her promise after the HSE announced the results of a blitz of health conditions at 560 UK construction sites, which ended on 4 July 2014. During the two-week initiative, HSE inspectors served:
- 239 “notices of contravention” of the law at 201 sites; and
- 120 enforcement notices at 85 sites (107 improvement notices and 13 prohibition notices)
The HSE reclaimed all of its enforcement costs from the dutyholders at the sites – at a rate of £124 an hour – under its controversial Fee for Intervention scheme (see last week’s Tetra Consulting news).
The inspectors looked at some of the most significant health risks in the industry, notably respiratory risks from dusts containing silica materials, other hazardous substances such as cement and lead paint, manual handling activities, and exposure to noise and vibration.
In 2011/12, which is the latest year for which figures are available, an estimated 57,000 construction workers who had worked in the previous 12 months suffered an illness that was caused or exacerbated by their work. This equates to an incidence rate of 2,570 per 100,000 construction workers. For every construction worker killed in an accident, another 100 die of a work-related cancer.
New “unannounced” visits
Ms Bryant claimed that it was “clear” from the inspection figures that the construction industry had “an unacceptable toll of ill health and fatal disease”. For the remainder of the year, therefore, inspectors would look at “the prevention and control of health risks in construction, alongside their continued assessment of the management of safety risk issues”. This would, she hoped, “encourage the industry to treat health issues in the same way as safety” where, she accepted, the industry had made progress.
On 22 September, the HSE announced it was starting a month of unannounced visits to construction sites involving repair or refurbishment work. Inspectors are focusing on high-risk activities, particularly those that cause ill health, including silica and asbestos, as well as safety hazards such as working at height. Launching the new initiative, Ms Bryant’s successor, Philip White, said: “Time and again we find smaller contractors working on refurbishment and repair work failing to protect their workers through a lack of awareness and poor control of risks. This is not acceptable – it costs lives, and we will take strong and robust action where we find poor practice and risky behaviour.”