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In construction, we’ve made some great progress in how we manage work-related ill-health. Despite this, it’s still not given the same focus as safety and the number of people whose health is harmed by their work remains high. As an industry we still have some way to go, but is one of our problems understanding the fundamental differences between health and safety?

At Construction Health and Wellbeing LTD, we have the pleasure of working with Wendy Jones who was part of the Loughborough University team who undertook some research, funded by IOSH in 2019 (available here). They found just that, that health is not like safety. Within their research, they looked at the scope, ownership, and understanding of work-related ill-health in construction. The research found:

  • The concept of health is much broader than safety, health includes work and personal related health, as well as physical and mental health.
  • It’s not always clear who “owns” health, is it HR? Is it Health and Safety? Or the role of health professionals?
  • For some H&S and construction managers, health wasn’t a key part of their training and not given the same attention as safety in the workplace.
  • The low visibility of health risks and the latency period means they are not given the right focus in comparison to immediate safety risks.
  • Workers perceive health risks differently to safety and have a higher tolerance for risk.
  • The costs and logistics of health checks, management of worker data, and lack of consistency in the industry impact the effectiveness of health risk management.

The research recommended to the industry:

  • Define what we mean by “health” when talking about health and safety
  • Improve the knowledge of managers, H&S professionals, and frontline workers
  • Identify who ‘owns’ health
  • Improve hierarchy of control for health risks so that elimination of risks and engineering solutions take precedence over PPE
  • Continue to improve access to OH services and improving the management of health data across the sector.

What does this mean for you?

Ask yourselves these questions: 

  • When you talk about health, does that include the management of health risks in design and construction? How you comply with the Equality Act and manage the health of your workers? Does it take into consideration how non-work related health issues impact your worker’s lives, their performance, and behaviour?
  • Do your managers have the balance right between health and safety? Do they need more training/coaching to give the right attention to health?
  • Who is responsible for health management in your organisation? Do they have the right skills and knowledge to do this? Do more departments need to take ownership?
  • Is PPE your main control for managing health risks? Could more be done to eliminate and reduce risk?
  • Do you have easily accessible access to OH services? Do you need more support with how the health data of your workers is managed?

Do you recognise any gaps in your approach? Or need some support to answer these questions? Get in touch with us or check out our health and wellbeing strategy support pages to find out how we can help you build a healthier future for your workers and our industry.

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