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Margaret Grahamslaw, Head of Occupational Health at B&CE, explains why health should be taken as seriously as safety
British industry has made great strides in addressing safety since the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but there is still so much to be done in terms of improving health, particularly in construction and its specialist trades. B&CE believes that health should be taken as seriously as safety -with an ageing workforce and so many small businesses in specialist trades such as drilling, it's important to keep people well and in work longer.
Consistency is also an issue. Current health and safety legislation is complex, and many employers have set up their own interpretation of health surveillance requirements, resulting in an uneven approach across the sector. Some workers undergo duplicate assessments whilst others get none.
Did you know? 13,000 deaths each year are linked to dust, chemicals and other hazards
There's a lot of talk about occupational health and wellbeing these days, but what exactly are these? Simply put, occupational health is the effect of your work on your health, and the effect of your health on your work.
Keep in mind that 'wellbeing' is a broader term referring to the promotion of general good health, including dietary advice, cholesterol checks and exercise advice which is not linked to work.
What about the effect of work on health?
UK law says that every employer must provide his or her employees with appropriate health surveillance if, despite controls, there is a residual risk to health from exposure to health hazards at work. The nature of the health surveillance is determined by the hazards and risks that employees are exposed to on the job. Examples of health surveillance include hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) tests, breathing tests, skin checks and hearing tests. These types of tests give early warning signs that something isn't right. The tests are evidence-based, easily replicated, comparable and measurable, and based on the results, employers will know which workers may be developing a work-related health effect (such as HAVS or signs of asthma) and can put additional controls in place.
Did you know? 1.3 million workers in the UK are suffering from work-related ill health
Using vibrating tools over a long period of time can cause damage to your hands and fingers as well as conditions such as HAVS. HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. Nearly two million people are at risk from the condition, which is serious and can be disabling. Appropriate health surveillance will identify symptoms at the earliest opportunity. Noise is also an issue, as long exposure can result in permanent hearing loss, which can't be improved with hearing aids.
A new occupational health scheme for construction
B&CE is working to develop an occupational health management scheme for the construction industry and specialist trades. Our vision is that workers will hold their own digital health record for the first time.
The first step has been development of an occupational health surveillance Framework, which, when implemented by employers, will lead to a more consistent approach to occupational health management across the construction industry. The Framework is a simple three-year plan that sets out an employer's obligations in terms of complying with health and safety legislation. It makes it easy for employers to identify health hazards, arrange health surveillance and share the results with individual employees, and investigate any issues. It's designed to work for all construction and specialist trades workers who are regularly exposed to dust, chemicals, noise and vibration - roughly 90% of those regularly exposed to health hazards.
B&CE are creating a feedback panel, made up of companies both large and small, who will work with us as part of the development of the occupational health scheme. Panel members will share industry experience, answer questions around issues such as occupational health costs, user experience and other elements. The time commitment will be limited and will typically involve telephone conversations and email interaction. If you would like to get involved, or nominate a company, please contact Andrew Percy at email@example.com
B&CE is a not-for-profit organisation - we operate for the benefit of our members and their dependents. Founded in the construction industry back in 1942, we offer a workplace pension, employee accident cover and employee life cover. We are now developing a new occupational health management scheme for the construction industry. To keep up to date with developments and sign up to our newsletter, please go to https://bandce.co.uk/occupational-health/