Health is as important as safety

By Tony Mawson, director, Organisational Healthcare Ltd.

Construction remains a high risk industry but there have been big improvements in worker safety over recent years.

The rate of workplace injury has reduced by around 40 per cent over the last 10 years.

There are however several factors why construction remains a high risk undertaking from a safety viewpoint.

These include, the varied and dynamic nature of the work and the working environment, together with a lack of awareness of the risks and the possibility of working on short term contracts.

The same factors mean that it is a high-risk environment from a health perspective as well as from a safety viewpoint.

Work related illness in the construction industry affected around 3 per cent of workers, causing around 70,000 cases and 1.7m working days lost in 2015/16. New cases of work-related illness in construction sector workers are about 20 per cent higher than the average across all industries.

Construction workers tend to suffer particularly with musculoskeletal disorders, which are around 90 per cent higher than the all-industry average. Dermatitis, hand arm vibration and stress are also significant problems.

In view of the importance of employee health, the health risks need to be managed just as vigorously as the safety risks.

Ensuring as far as possible that the work is not having an adverse effect on the worker by controlling the risks and by undertaking health surveillance to monitor their health is vitally important.

In addition, improving training and working practices, not only to work safely but work healthily has an important part to play.

Encouraging healthy lifestyles and supporting individuals to manage any existing health problems will minimise the adverse impact of ill-health. It is important to remember that failure to control health risks results in not only a cost to the individual employee but also has a substantial impact both financially and in terms of reputation to the employer.