The drive to reduce back injuries in construction is an opportunity for OH to lend its skills and knowledge to a sector badly in need of risk management. By Lorraine Shepherd
Construction workers suffer more from occupational ill-health than from accidents in the workplace. And the sector's record on managing health risks is at least as bad as it is on managing safety risks.
Every year more than one-quarter of all construction accidents reported to Health and Safety Executive1 involve manual handling. It also accounts for about three-quarters of all ill-health in construction, according to the recent HSE survey of self-reported, work-related illness2.
By its very nature construction work involves lots of manual handling, such as laying heavy building blocks, erecting scaffolds, moving sheet materials, placing kerbstones and installation work. And as such the industry cannot afford to ignore the potential for injury. Not only is it unacceptable for health and safety reasons, but managing it properly also makes good business sense.
In response to this problem the HSE has published practical guidelines on the construction sector called Backs for the Future - Safe Manual Handling in Construction3. Launched by HSE chief inspector of construction Kevin Myers in February, it is supported by the Construction Confederation, the GMB union and contractors.
Using a series of case studies, the guidance looks at ways in which real manual handling risks on construction sites have been reduced in practice. Many of the solutions to the manual handling problems identified in the booklet are simple, cost-effective measures that have been developed by designers, contractors and workers.
What is evident is that manual handling problems are not intractable. By taking an innovative approach, most problems can be solved. And the earlier in the procurement process these problems are addressed, the more cost-effective the solution.
Everyone involved with construction projects can introduce manual handling risks and must play their part in controlling those risks. Under the Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations, 1994, which apply to most construction work, everyone involved in the construction process must have adequate regard to health and safety. Backs for the Future sets out the basic principles for dea