Construction is a remarkable industry, but it’s also the industry that was infamously told in 2001 to ‘get its health and safety act together’ by then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. By and large, UK construction has responded well to this safety challenge (in electrical contracting, the rate of reportable accidents is now less than 10% of that in 2001) but overall, the management of workplace health hasn’t kept up.
It’s easy to see why: a mobile workforce that often comprises not just employees, but agency workers and the self-employed, means most companies are not sure how - or even whether - to manage the health of workers. However, a step change in occupational health surveillance is on the horizon, and two big drivers behind it are stakeholder involvement, and standardisation.
Firstly, a baseline standard for construction health surveillance, and a practical and repeatable health assessment process, has been brokered by financial product provider B&CE, with industry support. It’s expected to enable the health surveillance of hundreds of thousands of construction workers (even those who move from job to job) and give employers, employees and the wider industry information that will help to protect those in our industry, and extend productive working lives.
The common health assessment baseline will cover:
- Blood pressure and vision; plus (as required)
- Hearing, Respiratory, Skin and Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) assessment.
However, in what is too often a low margin industry, standardisation won’t make many any waves without a second significant driver – major stakeholder involvement. Several years ago, Clive Johnson, Group Head of Health and Safety at major property developer Landsec, along with others in a newly-formed Health in Construction Leadership Group, sought to recreate the impact of the 2001 Prescott safety Summit, but this time targeting occupational health.
Early in 2017, they invited CEOs from across construction to a new Summit, and they won industry-wide commitment to deliver a cost-effective route to construction health surveillance - paving the way for the B&CE initiative.
While suitable health surveillance is already a legal requirement, the above suggests that more contractors working for construction ‘Tier 1s’ and larger clients will soon need to embark on employee health surveillance. While carrying out and arranging for worker health surveillance involves costs, the new baseline standard should at least mean that industry buyers and suppliers will be playing to the same rules.
Health surveillance can help to increase worker productivity and to protect employers from future health claims, but it may also reveal that an employee is not ‘fit for work’. In this case, a hierarchy of management measures will be needed, but loss of employment should be the last, rather than the first, resort.
It looks like there will be more requirements for contractors to carry out health surveillance in 2019, and ECA’s health and safety and employment law teams are ready to help members to successfully engage with what’s on the way.