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Implementing better occupational health through the supply chain

Patrick Heath-Lay
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At the CN Summit last month, B&CE held a masterclass on the challenges and opportunities the industry faces as it strives to improve occupational health up and down the supply chain.

It helped inform our thinking, as in 2016 we acquired Constructing Better Health, the only national scheme for occupational health (OH) management in construction. But CBH isn’t delivering what it set out to do, and we’re now working to develop a new scheme for the industry.

“There are often inconsistencies with contractors’ own OH systems, and the challenges many face in demonstrating the compliance of the supply chain”

Facilitated by CN editor Tom Fitzpatrick, a packed room included representatives from Costain, Keltbray, Landsec, the Environment Agency, Express Medicals and the Health and Safety Executive.

Tideway’s head of occupational health and wellbeing  Jennie Armstrong shared the client’s perspective, speaking about the “transformational aspirations” of the collaborative OH programme versus the reality.

Ms Armstrong explained that there are often inconsistencies with contractors’ own OH systems, and the challenges many face in demonstrating the compliance of the supply chain.

She described the work Tideway is doing to promote its supply chain OH improvement scheme, but the challenge remains of getting contractors to participate because they want to, not just because they are mandated to do so.

Contractor view

Laing O’Rourke’s HSE leader Keith Prince presented the contractor perspective. He talked about the “stormy present” and the need to address the huge impact occupational ill health is having on the workforce every day.

Mr Prince highlighted the perception that good occupational health management is a “burden” the industry can’t afford, the lack of understanding and common requirements, and the fact that engaging and mobilising the supply chain remains problematic.

Each table brainstormed their key challenges and opportunities around engaging supply chains to improve occupational health in the industry. A rich and varied list emerged, which included:

Challenges:

  • Getting the message across. Yes, there’s a cost, but it’s not as high as may be perceived and there are huge benefits.
  • A need for greater understanding amongst clients, designers and contractors, including a common approach to good OH risk management.
  • Setting standards rather than mandating systems. Employers have a duty to look after their employees so we need to trust and empower them to do it, rather than imposing new project-specific systems.

Opportunities:

  • Making it simple and intuitive. Develop a clear understanding of what is meant by OH risk management, what we need to focus on (and also what we don’t).
  • Producing a consistent and accepted set of standards and approach using a common language.
  • And perhaps learning from another industry.

You may have spotted that the challenges are also opportunities (and vice-versa).

Some interesting questions emerged from the subsequent Q&A. How do we understand and measure the cost of reducing the burden on the NHS? What is the best way to harness the power of personal stories as drivers of change? How do we bridge generational attitudes and perspectives on health? How can we put competitive advantage aside and share good practice more readily?

These are tough issues to address and certainly give us a lot of food for thought as we develop the new scheme. We know that the industry is eager for a solution, and we are working hard to make sure we get one that is absolutely right.

Patrick Heath-Lay is chief executive of B&CE. Further information about B&CE’s occupational health work can be found at www.bandce.co.uk/occupational-health

Readers' comments (1)

  • ECA and Unite are now working together to support thousands of occupational health assessments in JIB member companies, working in the multi-billion electrotechnical sector. Not only will this improve occupational health monitoring, management and outcomes, but from 2019 we will be able to review a large sample of indicators from across the sector.

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