HSE focuses on construction health issues


When reviewing the prodigious output from HSE’s publicity department, it is easy to think that the organisation focuses mostly upon the high-profile cases of death and injury at work caused by individual safety lapses – and often enough, construction health and safety issues.

But for now, there is a change in tack and HSE has redirected its Inspectors’ attention. As it admits, building sector workers are more than 100 times more at risk of dying from a disease caused, or aggravated, by their work than they are of suffering an accident on site.

So Inspectors are currently making snap site visits to examine health risks. The following issues are among those to be examined -

  1. Dusts (like silica-bearing stone materials) and respiratory complaints
  2. Other hazardous substance exposures (e.g. lead paint, cement)
  3. Hand/arm vibration and noise afflictions
  4. Manual handling risks

Examples of recent cases where these issues occurred have been publicised in these columns, and they include two sites where stonemasons suffered unduly from dangerous dusts, and a case where building workers suffered chemical leg burns from standing in wet concrete.

MEWP Warning

In a separate initiative, HSE is warning of the dangers that can exist when using Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs). They counsel that the covers and shrouding on the controls of these devices should not solely be relied upon to protect operators from trapping themselves between the machine and a nearby obstruction. There have been cases where someone has inadvertently knocked controls that are not perfectly protected from being activated, and has been trapped as a result.

This and other additional advice is given by various official bodies, and operators are urged to read and heed the warnings and advice of best practice in terms of Primary safety devices and Secondary safety devices that are highlighted here.

Usual Suspects

Of course, the usual issues also remain in HSE’s sights.

Fragile roofs have been much in the news, with a spate of cases that have come to court recently where unfortunate building personnel have fallen through weak roofing material – mostly through glass roof lights – and been killed or injured.

This is really a sub-set of the Working at Height set of risks, the most persistent curse of the building safety scene.  There is a wide variety of risks exhibited in the case history, including –

  • Stairs without protective railing
  • Poorly designed or constructed scaffolding
  • Unsafe and inappropriate ladder work
  • Unprotected basement voids

Other issues include asbestos (its inappropriate or illegal handling) and even electric gates.

So all in all, it is likely to be a busy summer for HSE Inspectors: and that means it will be a time for all building contractors to be even more vigilant than usual. An independent pair of eyes is often needed to spot issues that are easily missed when you are too close to the workings of your site. And that is where the construction industry-trained safety consultants of McCormack Benson Health & Safety can save you money by helping you work smarter, as well as dealing with any HSE issues that may arise.