Since 2004, when the first occupational health management pilot study was conducted in Leicestershire, Constructing Better Health (CBH) has been spearheading the creation of the UK’s first national scheme for occupational health (OH) standards in the construction industry.
Today, CBH plays a vital role as the interface between the construction industry and providers of OH services. It promotes a proactive approach to managing health in the workplace and its not-for-profit status ensures impartiality in all matters relating to the management and improvement of the health of construction workers.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that 4.5% of the construction industry workforce is affected by illnesses caused or made worse by their work. This equates to 90,000 workers and 1.8 million days lost due to work-related illness. Early attempts to deal with this issue have focused primarily on general health checks and health promotion, rather than risk management. However, the industry has started to understand that good health equals good business, and as such CBH has become a vital link in the OH chain.
The setting of industry standards for both work-related health issues and competency of OH provision within the construction industry is just one of the key focus areas for CBH. It has also developed a construction-specific knowledge portal, and has centralised the collection of work-related health data. Alongside this, it communicates fit-for-task data to enable employers to manage work-related health risks at site level, and also acts as a referral route through to specialists in the field of return to work and rehabilitation.
In March 2009, CBH joined forces with the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), which was set up to help the construction industry improve quality and reduce the number of accidents. CSCS cards are increasingly demanded as proof of occupational competence, and to date more than 1.4 million have been issued. Together, CBH and CSCS have created a united voice for the management of proof of competency and work-related health in the construction industry.
The CBH database and card
For the past 12 months, CBH has focused its attention on creating the first national occupational health database and card scheme that allows site managers and employers to obtain ‘fitness for task’ information for their workforce right down the supply chain. Available only to all CBH-accredited OH providers, the database will give access to clinical data and outcomes of different work-related health checks and allows an individual’s health data to be monitored, thereby allowing earlier detection of work-related ill health. Alongside the existing CSCS scheme, the CBH database means that, through their OH service providers, contractors and employers will be able to manage both health and safety at site level in a co-ordinated and cohesive way.
Development and benefits
In December 2008, CBH awarded the contract for the development of the database to Warwick International Computing Systems. Based on Warwick’s framework of integrated OH and health and safety management software modules, the CBH Database uses the company’s e-OPAS web-based system.
The system is a browser-based solution for OH departments and providers including modules for case management, appointments, billing, health surveillance, medicals, immunisation and injury rehabilitation. It features comprehensive workflow tools enabling users to apply local procedures and protocols. The e-OPAS Portal also enables online referrals, screening and surveillance questionnaires, incident reports and sickness absence records to be created by individuals or managers, with instant access for review or action by OH. It gives status updates, where relevant, via the portal to the originating individual or manager, and features a wide range of standard reports and powerful tools that enable users to review and analyse any data in the system.
Health checks can be applied via the CBH website to be stored in a secure central database so that up-to-date ‘fitness for task’ data can be made available via the website to employers and managers. If an employee is undergoing a health check, the OH practitioner can request access to historical health check records via the website, and CBH can then allow the practitioner access.
The key benefit of the database is its ability to allow OH service providers to accurately monitor an individual’s work-related health over the long-term, which is crucial to CBH’s aim of enabling employers to manage OH risks at site level. As each member of a workforce is assessed by a CBH-accredited OH service provider, the outcomes of the assessment – with the employee’s consent – are entered into the national CBH database. A CBH card is then issued to the individual, or where applicable, the CSCS or affiliated card will be updated.
The CBH card will give site managers and employers access via a secure log-on to the CBH website to an employee’s name, unique reference number, date of health surveillance check, length of validity, and any considerations that the site manager needs to consider. Any restrictions or considerations noted in the employee’s records are always presented in a positive way. The aim is not to exclude people, but to correct problems and improve health and wellbeing.
Using the information on the CBH card, authorised contractors and site managers can access the CBH database from any location or site and see the outcomes of the different work-related health checks. No access to medically confidential data is available, but the CBH database does allow employers to consider reasonable adjustments to ensure each individual employee stays healthy and at work longer.
Sainsbury’s has already signed up to the scheme and to date more than 400 health surveillance and safety-critical worker ‘fitness for task’ checks have been completed on Sainsbury’s sites using the CBH industry standards, with a 98% consent rate.
Construction Health Action Toolkit
Later this year, CBH will be unveiling its Construction Health Action Toolkit (CHAT). Through an online question and answer session, this interactive OH management system will allow users to assess and then manage their own employees’ OH requirements, as well as that of their sub-contractors. This tool will enable contractors to demonstrate to their clients and others how they are managing the entire supply chain with regard to work-related health.
CHAT will incorporate recordable, built-in training and information modules appropriate to site-specific hazards and risks, and will produce management information for benchmarking purposes. It will also link in to the HSE’s Construction Occupational Health Management Essentials (COHME) risk management system.
For OH practitioners who are not already CBH accredited, Aldous recommends they gain accreditation as soon as possible. The benefits are considerable and, among other things, offer access to CBH research and reports, discounted training courses for continuing professional development, access to data for health monitoring, access to online best practice and management tools, and also use of the CBH registration mark on all company literature.
There are also major benefits for employers, clients and contractors who become CBH members. As increasing numbers of CBH cards are issued and accepted across the country, entire workforces will be able to move easily between sites without the need for further costly and time-consuming OH tests. Other significant benefits to employers include greater productivity through a reduction in ill health absences due to work-related issues, access to a fit-for-task nationwide workforce, demonstration of compliance with government legislation, and increased corporate responsibility that enhances brand image and attracts the best people to their workforce.
External or in-house OH practitioners wishing to gain CBH accreditation should visit the CBH website or call the CBH helpline on 08458 737 726. Applications for CBH accreditation can be done online. Alternatively, a downloadable form is available from the website. Accreditation should take around 10 working days unless an external audit is required.
Each accredited OH practitioner will receive a certificate and a registration mark which can be used on any of their own corporate literature and printed material. In addition, as CBH publishes a full list of registered providers on the CBH website, it provides a first port of call for employers, contractors and their clients looking to appoint an OH practitioner for their business.
As CBH initiatives gain further momentum, and its standards become the norm for OH management in the construction industry, it is clear that more and more organisations will sign up to the principles and benefits of CBH.
Michelle Aldous is chief executive officer at CBH.
About Constructing Better Health
Constructing Better Health
Tel: 08458 737 726
On 1 August 2007, Constructing Better Health became a not-for-profit organisation delivering the national scheme for the management of occupational health in the construction industry, with the aim of improving the health of the industry workforce. It focuses on five key areas:
Setting industry standards for both work-related health issues, and competency of OH provision
Building a construction-specific knowledge portal
Centralising the collection of work-related health data
The transmission of fit-for-task data to enable employers to manage work-related health risks at site level
A referral route through to specialists in the field of return to work and rehabilitation.
About Warwick International
Warwick International Computing Systems
Tel: 01332 781 882
Warwick International Computing Systems has provided a framework of integrated occupational health and health and safety management software modules, together with comprehensive implementation and ongoing support services, since 1989.