Construction firms should train staff in occupational health awareness

Construction companies have been urged to train at least one employee in occupational health awareness to increase understanding of OH throughout their organisations and in their supply chains.

The recommendation was made by insurance provider B&CE, which has its roots in financial products for construction workers, after a report found that major construction projects can support supply chains – including smaller firms with often limited OH provision – to develop healthier working practices.

It commissioned Loughborough University to study OH provision and awareness at the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC), which is currently under development in Loughborough.

It found that the construction companies involved in the project had raised their own standards to enable them to bid for major projects, and several  organisations had developed their own OH arrangements as a consequence of working on the DNRC.

An OH adviser on the site worked with contractors to promote health and risk assessments for workers with health conditions, which the report said highlighted the scope for specialists employed on major projects to educate firms in the supply chain about health risks.

However, the report noted that changes are needed at industry level, not just on major projects, if OH provision and awareness in the construction sector is to improve.

Recommendations from its Improving OH risk management in SMEs report included:

  • major projects setting clear expectations that the organisations involved will carry out worker health checks, which will increase the likelihood that contractors will adopt them as a longer-term practice;
  • employing OH clinicians to educate site managers and supervisors to ensure that provision isn’t limited to medicals and health checks, but also broader interventions;
  • improving training materials around workplace health – such as offering presentations from construction workers who have suffered work-related ill health;
  • increasing education of OH and medical obligations for SMEs; and
  • addressing the shortfall of OH practitioners to widen the pool that construction firms can recruit from.

Margaret Grahamslaw, head of occupational health at B&CE, said: “These recommendations centre around the importance of training in occupational health awareness to ultimately improve the wellbeing of workers in the construction industry across the UK. By ensuring at least one member of staff in any company, regardless of size, is trained in this area, this can encourage the spread of knowledge in both common OH issues and those that are less well understood.”

Lead researcher Dr Wendy Jones, from Loughborough University, commented: “Health often ends up as the poor relation of safety in construction, and it can be particularly difficult for smaller companies that don’t always have the right expertise, or who have limited budgets, to get the right arrangements in place.

“This research found that some small and micro employers are improving their management of hazards such as dust and musculoskeletal disorders as a result of working on major projects such as the building of the DNRC, which the research was centred on. This is good news and confirms that good practices ‘trickle down’ through the sector for health, as they do for safety.”

Using funding provided by B&CE, the charity Mates in Mind has launched a survey to determine the mental health risks to apprentices across the construction and related industries. Mates in Mind will use the research to develop a programme tailored to construction apprentices’ needs.

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