Going the distance for Britain’s builders

By-lined to Sarah Jardine, acting head of construction at the Health and Safety Executive

Construction is an industry that I deeply care about. I have worked for HSE for 21 years starting out as an inspector and climbing up the ranks before joining HSE’s construction division in November 2015 as head of operations. I have recently taken over as the acting head of construction as of April 2019.

Over the course of my time with HSE, I have seen first hand the impact of getting health and safety wrong on construction sites. I have witnessed the very human cost of employers failing to protect their workers and how this scars and fragments families across Britain. This is why I am extremely passionate about the work this organisation does in protecting lives and holding those who fail to account. It is, quite literally, life and death.

I felt there was more that I could do to help the families I have met over the years who have been affected by poor practices, so aside from the day-to-day running of HSE’s construction sector, I’ve recently taken on a different type of running.

Alongside my husband Paul, I have spent the last few months training for the Asda Foundation Derby Half Marathon which we recently ran in support of the Lighthouse Club – a charity providing financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families. So far, we have raised over £750 between us which will go towards helping families dealing with the distress and grief you find when you look a bit deeper into the stories that sit behind HSE’s prosecutions and indeed our ill health, injury and death statistics.

Why construction?

Construction is recognised widely as still one of the most dangerous industries to work in – 38 construction workers were killed last year and 58,000 were injured. These figures come after vast improvements in construction’s safety record over the last 50 years.

But it’s not just safety – there are also a growing number of cases of ill health in the industry. Figures show this causes a loss of 1.9 million working days, equating to 8,000 construction workers being absent from work for a full year.

One of the biggest areas of concern for HSE is lung health. Construction has the largest proportion of deaths attributed to workplace exposure to hazardous substances – around 3,500 out of 8,000 cancer deaths a year. These substances include wood dust, asbestos and silica which are typically found in abundance on construction sites. Even where a builder is not killed by a terminal lung disease, their quality of life is significantly impacted by the many chronic conditions that arise from exposure to dust.

HSE’s role in tackling this

Builders’ lung health is an important issue not just for HSE but also for their employers which is why we are carrying out #Dustbuster inspections focusing on dust control. A large part of this work is inspecting the construction industry, but we’ll also be visiting food manufacturing and woodworking businesses as these workplaces generate a lot of dust too.

We are specifically looking for evidence of employers knowing the risks, planning the work and ensuring workers use the right controls.

Our inspectors will be visiting businesses throughout June – are you ready for a health inspection?

More information on controlling exposure to dust. To download our free #DustBuster selfie cards visit the #Dustbuster resource page and follow the campaign on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

You can also join the conversation at #WorkRight