HSE will launch an unannounced inspection clampdown in the construction sector targeting disease risks as part of a package of measures to improve the industry’s management of occupational health.
During the two-week initiative in June HSE will carry out 500 inspections focusing on risks such as the control of dust and other hazardous substances, manual handling risks and the noise and hand-arm vibration dangers associated with activities such as cutting and breaking concrete products.
According to a paper presented to HSE’s Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC), the regulator will also draw up new operational guidance for inspectors outlining enforcement expectations for disease risks as well as encouraging inspectors to “take a critical look at how health risks are managed in all construction activities”.
HSE has carried out targeted inspection initiatives in the past, but focused on particular types of projects, such as basement conversions, mainly concerning safety risks, such as working at height. It is the first such inspection initiative to focus primarily on health risks.
The regulator has faced pressure in recent years over what some perceive as its lack of action on occupational health. Professor Andrew Watterson, writing in Hazards magazine in 2012, criticised HSE's then-nascent occupational cancer strategy, which he said made “no mention of either prevention or related inspection, investigation or enforcement activity”.
In August 2013 the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) said there was an “urgent need” for HSE to “reassess and rebalance its priorities and resources to begin to address the enormous challenge of tackling occupational disease”.
Since taking up the post in March last year, chief inspector of construction Heather Bryant has said she will push health up the agenda in the construction sector and increase inspectors’ focus on disease.
The construction industry accounts for over 40% of all workplace cancer deaths. While a large number of these are due to past exposures to carcinogens such as asbestos, over 30,000 new work-related ill-health conditions were reported in 2012 within the construction industry, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Further activities as part of the package of measures will include challenging architects, clients and designers to design out health risks. This will involve considering health aspects through the project’s lifecycle – from design to demolition.
The drive will also see new guidance documents published: two ‘busy builder’ sheets – aimed at small employers – on the manual handling of plasterboard and heavy blocks are due to be published soon and a further busy builder sheet on hazardous substance control during painting is due to be released before the June inspection initiative. HSE has also completed a revision of its construction health web pages, which are planned for launch in April, according to the paper.
The CONIAC paper adds that HSE will use a new tool to assess how major contractors manage health issues. Inspectors will use the Health Risk Management Maturity Index, which has been developed with HSL, to evaluate how ‘mature’ contractors are in managing health issues throughout the company.
“It is envisaged that after further development work this tool will then be available on the HSE website for industry to use as a self-assessment audit process,” the paper states. “Guidance on what mature practice looks like is also being drafted so companies can readily identify the solutions to become more effective in dealing with the issues.”
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