Construction workers’ health the focus of HSE ‘clampdown’


As the HSE has pointed out, although we tend to focus on building safety and in particular on the cases that occur when accidents happen as a result of safety procedure lapses, the organisation is also responsible for people’s health at work. Now it is highlighting this with a 30-day ‘crackdown’ on construction health issues.

As usual with their initiatives, this involves unannounced visits, but contractors should be aware that this will not be randomly applied to any construction sites: they specifically have named refurbishment and repair works. So you can be sure that they will have run off their lists of notifiable projects and will be drawing their visit list from these. As I write, the initiative has just begun, so safety managers and safety consultants should be particularly on guard. Of course we should be vigilant at all times, but the prospect of a focused visit and the possibility of receiving a stiff Fee For Intervention can focus the mind wonderfully…

‘Think Health’

What HSE has identified as ‘high-risk activities’ are especially under the microscope:

  • Silica dust
  • Asbestos-containing materials
  • Other hazardous products

The body warns: “If unacceptable standards are found Inspectors will take immediate enforcement action.” Pointing out that more than 30,000 construction workers fall ill due to work diseases each year, they ask the building trades to ‘think health’.

In view of the high-profile nature of the campaign, safety personnel would be well advised to read up on the subject in greater detail on the HSE’s site page here.

Their Chief Inspector of Construction Philip White is quoted as saying:

Industry has made much progress in reducing the number of people killed and injured in its activities, but for every fatal accident, approximately 100 construction workers die from a work-related cancer. During the recent health initiative, enforcement action was taken on one in six sites.  Time and again we find smaller contractors working on refurbishment and repair work failing to protect their workers through a lack of awareness and poor control of risks.

This isn’t acceptable – it costs lives, and we will take strong and robust action where we find poor practice and risky behaviour.
Through campaigns like this we aim to ensure contractors take all risks to their workers seriously, and not just focus on immediate safety implications. They need to put in place practical measures to keep workers both safe and well

What to expect from a targeted visit

Inspectors will be tasked with focusing in particular on these questions:

  • Is the company controlling risks from exposure to dusts like silica
  • Do its workers know where asbestos might exist, and what they need to do where it is found
  • Are health risks like noise and vibration, manual handling, hazardous substances etc. being managed effectively
  • Have jobs involving working at height been correctly identified and are they being planned in practice to ensure that ‘appropriate precautions’ (e.g. proper support structures) have been put into place
  • Is all equipment correctly installed, assembled, inspected, maintained and being used properly
  • Has the site been properly organized so as to avoid trips and falls; are walkways and stairs free from obstructions
  • Are welfare facilities adequate

Make sure that your refurbishment or rebuild project is fully compliant, to avoid any problems and to protect your workforce.