CIOB Community, Opinion

Health matters just as much as safety

Let’s promote health as well as safety across the building industry, says Emma Eden
Business people meditating in field. Image: Dreamstime
Business people meditating in field. Image: Dreamstime

I graduated with a degree in construction management in 1998 and worked in construction management for the following 10 years and loved working on site. However, with three young children, I found it increasingly difficult to work the hours required and realised that I had to make a choice between continuing to work in the job I loved or spending time with my children.

As health and safety was an integral part of my role and I had completed my NEBOSH National Construction Certificate, I made the decision to move into construction health and safety, offering consultancy services in conjunction with my husband’s business. After completing a master’s degree in occupational and environmental health and safety and with an increasing demand for our health and safety services, we started to offer services throughout all industries.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2017 are still not fully understood by many in the industry and the ethos of reducing the bureaucracy involved in construction health and safety has not yet been achieved. I continue to see organisations producing hundreds of pages of irrelevant health and safety information for projects which are not communicated, and I regularly speak to site personnel who are not fully aware of hazards relevant to their work.

Emma Eden

“Working in the construction industry is tough – it requires long hours and the aggressive behaviours and attitudes displayed by many would not be tolerated in many other workplaces”

It is essential to us that we promote and support improved health as well as safety across the industry. When we carry out health surveillance, we often identify that our practitioners are the first health professionals that some of the construction workforce have spoken to in years. The HSE’s Construction Statistics 2020 detail that 81,000 construction workers suffered from work-related ill health, with the majority relating to either musculoskeletal disorders or stress, anxiety or depression.

We believe that many construction workers do not access support, so I strongly advise people to take the opportunity of health surveillance to signpost and provide information on improving health wherever possible. We have many examples of where our intervention has prevented more serious ill health.

Working in the construction industry is tough – it requires long hours and the aggressive behaviours and attitudes displayed by many would not be tolerated in many other workplaces. I don’t think the industry has changed much since the start of my career in this respect, and this may be one of the factors that contribute to the high instance of stress, anxiety and depression.

Emma Eden is director/occupational and environmental health and safety practitioner at Genesis OHS.

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