Construction should value health in the same way as safety

The construction sector should give equal weight to managing the health of its workforce as it does to safety, and should address health hazards in the same way as physical risks, according to the construction financial welfare organisation B&CE.

Responding to a call for evidence from the Lords Science and Technology Committee on whether manufacturing for construction projects should be moved off site, B&CE said off-site manufacturing would ensure hazards are managed more effectively than when products are developed on site.

It argued this would reduce construction workers’ exposure to conditions such as occupational asthma, asbestosis, hand arm vibration syndrome, hearing loss and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It would also reduce the risk of employees developing musculoskeletal disorders – one of the most common work-related health risks in the construction industry.

In written evidence to the committee, B&CE said moving manufacturing processes off site would reduce vibration risks, as machines would likely be cutting materials. It would also minimise workers’ exposure to dust.

However, it noted that, if fewer tasks were carried out on site, the potential for overuse injury could increase as rotation of tasks between employees might be infrequent.

Margaret Grahamslaw, head of occupational health at B&CE, said addressing safety risks often took priority on construction projects and other health hazards were sometimes not considered.

She said: “There should be a greater emphasis on designing out risks and hazards at the start of the construction lifecycle, along with the provision of a wider variety of ‘standardised’ products so that off-site manufacture becomes easier and more convenient for contractors of all sizes.”

“We believe Government should lead a change in culture, by setting the expectation for major projects, for example, that there are no risks to health. This will not be achieved quickly, as it requires cultural and behavioural change, but it should be our ambition.”

Also providing evidence to the inquiry, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association suggested that, while off-site manufacturing might improve health and safety on site, safety risks would simply be transferred to another provider, albeit in a more controlled environment.

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