construction work

Occupational Health Needs & Problems in The Construction Sector

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2015-08-27 10:42

The Second Highest Rate Of Self Reported Illness

HSE estimates that two million people within the the Uk currently suffer from an illness caused by , or made worse by their working environment. Ill ­health can have a significant impact on the person affected but through loss of productivity, it can also have a dramatic effect on the business. According to the HSE, sickness absence costs the Uk economy an estimated £12 billion per annum. The construction industry is no different than any other industry in this respect

Inherently dangerous work & workplace

However, because of the inherent danger in both the work undertaken and the work place, injury, absence and deaths are high. In 2005/2006, the construction industry had the second highest rate of self reported illness  attributed to work at 3,800 cases per 100,000 employed persons (Health and Safety statistics 2005/06 HSE Books 2006). Construction workers also have a high overall mortality rate, independent of social class. Brick layers  and labourers are recorded as having the second highest mortality rate.

Not just injury

The construction sector is a complex environment as both the workplace and the workforce are constantly in motion. Nonetheless, there are common requirements of Health and Safety legislation and objectives for occupational disease reduction that apply to the sector. There have been big improvements over recent years in reducing the number and rate of injuries to construction workers.

Most people know that construction is a high-risk industry and accounts for a high percentage of fatal and major injuries. Often though, what is less recognised is that construction is a high-risk industry for occupational health issues too. Below are some key points about these risks and why they are so significant.

  • Cancer: The Construction Industry has the largest burden of occupational cancer amongst all of the industrial sectors. It accounts for over 40% of occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations in the UK. It is estimated that past exposures in the construction sector cause 5,000 occupational cancer cases and approximately 3,700 deaths yearly. The most significant cause of these cancers is asbestos (70%), followed by silica (17%), working as a painter and diesel engine exhaust (6-7% each).
  • Hazardous substances: Dusts, chemicals and potentially harmful mixtures (paints etc) are common in construction work. Some processes emit dusts, fumes, vapours or gases into the air and these can be significant causes of occupational respiratory disease, breathing problems and lung diseases. A number of construction-related occupations also have high rates of dermatitis from skin exposures to hazardous substances.
  • Physical health risks: Skilled construction and building trades are one of the occupations with the highest estimated prevalence of back injuries and upper limb disorders. Manual handling is the most commonly reported cause of injuries that last for over seven days in the industry. Construction also has one of highest rates of ill health caused by noise and vibration.

Underlying causes

The underlying causes of these occupational health problems are varied. However, it goes back to the work and the environment being a inherently dangerous place. There are many reasons but they include:

  • The construction site environment: The construction workplace is very different to a factory, construction work takes place in a lot of very different environments. Different work sites can present a range of different health risks, including existing ones like asbestos. The extent of these risks can also vary between areas of the same site. This is why each site needs a thorough assessment of all risks. 
  • The dynamic nature of the work: Building sites are constantly changing and a large number of trades may all be carrying out tasks at the same time. These tasks can be potentially dangerous to their health and that of others. This is why safety should be be a constant concern and certain work should be controlled. 
  • Risk appreciation: Within the construction workforce, there is generally a low awareness of health risks and the controls needed. It can take many years for serious ill health conditions from occupational exposure to develop. Because of this, the immediate consequence of a harmful workplace exposure may often be dismissed as not significant in comparison to the immediate impact of injuries caused by accidents.
  • Employment Conditions: In the construction industry many jobs are sub contracted. This means that many workers are either self-employed or work for small companies. Many employees also frequently change employers. Others work away from home. These situations can make it difficult for workers to easily look after their own health and they often have little or no contact with occupational health professionals.

Common principles across industry

The risks of of occupational ill health in the Construction Industry can be managed just as they can in other industries. Ill health can be prevented, it is both possible and practical to carry out construction work without causing ill health. The steps you follow to avoid ill health follow a few essential common principles

  • Treat health like safety: Managing health risks in the construction workplace is no different to managing safety risks. Follow the Assess, Control, Review steps.
  • Everyone has a role to play: Everyone involved in construction has a responsibility in managing risks to health. Each must take ownership of their part of the process. Everyone should be aware that they bear responsibility for their health and the health of others.
  • Control the risk, not the symptoms: monitoring and health surveillance programmes are excellent, however, they are not enough in isolation. While they are an effective part of managing health risks, the first priority is to end risk exposure if possible or limit the damage caused.
  • Manage risk, not lifestyles: The law requires steps to be taken to prevent or adequately control work-related health risks. Helping workers tackle lifestyle issues like smoking or diet may be beneficial but is not a substitute for this.

What could it cost your business?

While the focus on safety within the industry is very strong, not controlling health risks can be possibly even more costly to you and your business. The costs are simple:

  • Human cost: Every case of occupational disease in the statistics is someone who is needlessly suffering. Occupational diseases can be prevented, the suffering can also affect friends and loved ones.
  • Financial cost: There is a real financial cost to the mismanagement of workplace health. There are real costs to losing skilled staff, employee absences and insurance claims. Managing workplace health helps you retain experienced and skilled workers. It also helps employees maintain productive employment. Failing to do this can be costly, HSE also operates the Fee For Intervention scheme. Under The Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012, those who breach health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action. This could have a massive impact on your business.
  • Reputational cost: HSE treats non-compliance with health issues very seriously. HSE places enforcement notices on the Public Register and this could wreak havoc on your reputation as trustworthy service provider or contractor. The consequences can be even more significant when HSE takes prosecution action and cases are listed on the Public Register of Convictions.

Services we can offer

As an Occupational Health provider based in Leicester, we can offer you a full line of occupational health and health surveillance services. Common health hazards affecting construction workers include asbestos, construction dust, lifting and carrying, noise, vibration, cement and lead. With these hazards in mind, we can deliver a health surveillance package designed to meet your needs across the United Kingdom. For construction that package can include hand arm vibration assessment, biological monitoring, dermatology surveillance, general health surveillance and lung function testing in the workplace. If you have any questions or you would like a quote, please don't hesitate to contact us on 01455 234 600 or online

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