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The construction industry must unify its approach to help tackle ill health in the workplace

The construction industry must unify its approach to help tackle ill health in the workplace

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At B&CE, we take the challenges of ill health in the workplace very seriously. We are proud to be firmly rooted in the construction industry and have been supporting it for 75 years, and we are now looking to give something back in terms of health. We want to make occupational health simple for both employers and workers to understand and meet their obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.  I joined B&CE with the specific remit to help drive delivery of a new occupational health scheme for the whole construction industry, including specialist trades.

When our Chief Executive Patrick Heath-Lay addressed this Summit in January last year, he highlighted a lack of consistency across the industry. And this remains our key challenge – everyone is still doing something different. We’re not sharing what we need to share. We’re not being united in our approach.

We’re also not clear about the scale of the challenge – we don’t know how many people are being made ill through work. Health surveillance isn’t always being carried out, so we’re not picking up the early signs of ill health... this is vital to taking a proactive approach. Health surveillance is key when workers are exposed to hazards such as asbestos dust, which can lead to long term conditions.

B&CE’s proposed Framework, which will underpin its occupational health scheme, will help to address these challenges.  Firstly, it will clarify the complex health and safety legislation that employers in all sectors and of all sizes need to comply with into a clear three year plan.

ECA members will have access to an easily-repeatable process for managing health surveillance, giving them confidence that workers’ health is being appropriately monitored as they move from job to job.   Secondly, implementing  this process will provide the consistency that is so desperately needed, and give companies a greater understanding of what needs to be done and when.  Most importantly, it will enable early identification of changes in health, such as signs of asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). B&CE have relaunched the Framework following consultation with the industry, and the revised version and explanatory animation can be found here.

We are still too focused on fitness for work, rather than the effects of hazards at work on health.  Unfortunately, the construction industry tends to see workers as being ‘unfit for work’ until proven otherwise.  Our aim is to create a shift in this thinking. 

Find out more and keep up to date on the B&CE website.

Margaret Grahamslaw is Head of Occupational Health at B&CE, supporting the development of an occupational health scheme to simplify health surveillance, planning and access to health information for construction workers. 

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