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Improving health will draw in staff


We have to focus on workers' health if we are to make construction a more attractive place for young recruits, writes Vaughan Burnand

WHILE we can be proud that the UK holds one of the best const ruct ion safety records in the world , the indust ry has more to do. Increasingly, we must assume responsibility for protecting the workforce from long-term health problems. Every year, 40 million working days in the UK are lost due to occupational health and injury, according to the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Although the industry has addressed many safety issues, the prevent ion of the slow accident - or long-term health problems - still needs to be tackled.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, many companies are merely scratching the surface. The quick fix has been to channel resources into detecting failure, rather than preventing problems such as noise-induced hearing loss, workrelated stress and hand/arm vibration syndrome.

The main challenge is to educate the industry about the serious repercussions of poor practice and outline the ways in which these issues can be addressed.

With Laing O'Rourke just appointed as the delivery partner for the 2012 Olympic Games, there will be much for the entrusted project manager to consider.

The primary concern is most likely the shaping of a profitable construction project. But amid the drive for innovation through technology, the significance of good people management must not be overlooked.

Good management will ensure each worker is operating in the best possible environment. The creat ion of a healthy and safe site should be at the core of the Olympics - perhaps then we will have a legacy to be truly proud of: fit and happy workers. At the moment, seven per cent of the construction workforce is affected by illness caused or made worse by work - amounting to 100,000 people.

The annual cost of poor on-site health awareness is £760 million. In addition, muscular skeletal disorders, for example, cost an average of £7,000 per case, with over 1 million UK sufferers. This is all preventable.

These statistics do nothing to encourage the 350,000 extra sk illed people required by the indust ry in the next f ive years, according to CITB forecasts. This target is vir tually unachievable if you take ODA research - which estimates four out of five parents would actively discourage their children from going into the industry - into account.

For many, ticking boxes gives some organisations a false sense of security. The CITB is raising awareness of the need to think more strategically about addressing health in the workplace, as are groups such as the ODA and the Clients Construction Group with Constructing Excellence.

The primary move has been to engage designers and product suppliers so that they can design out risk. This is the process whereby the health implications of products are considered at an early stage to prevent problems later on.

We have seen excellent pract ice in this regard at Heath row's T5 and at Canary Wharf, London. At Shepherd Const ruct ion we actively encourage the use of well-designed products such as Hilti Diamond technology, which significantly reduces hand/ arm vibration injury.

There is a misconception among the construction community that good design is expensive. But the long-term savings are extensive. It takes less than 0.1 per cent of a contract's value to deliver a safe and healthy environment.

At Shepherd Construction we know that good practice works.

We found that hand cut injuries were reduced to zero under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations within six months of introducing a strict 100 per cent gloves rule on site. This compares with seven R iddor breaches in the previous six months. By getting workers involved and instigating change, good practice becomes commonplace.

The UK indust ry must step up to the challenge of long-term health issues now if it is to become a beacon of best pract ice and deliver an environment that is attractive to new recruits.

There are three things the industry can do today. Firstly, we must demand more f rom products so that inherent flaws are eradicated. Secondly, we must communicate better with our workforces to understand the issues that they face on site so that we are in a posit ion to change the cultu re and behaviou r. Th is is something that all organisations must do.

Finally, we must make the most of the Olympics to drive change throughout the supply chain.

Vaughan Burnand is chief executive of Shepherd Construction and chairs the Major Contractors Group's health and safety committee