Health-at-work explained

The construction industry has made great strides in safety over the past 30 years but managing health-at-work is still a challenge.

We believe everyone working in construction has the right to a healthy working life and future. And, the industry agrees. Together, with them, we’re working to raise awareness and improve understanding of health-at-work (often called occupational health) – and make it easier for employers to manage health-at-work in construction so that workers can stay fit and healthy.

What is occupational health?

Occupational health, or more simply put, health-at-work, is a two-way relationship – the effect of work on health, and the effect of health on work.

The effect of work on health would be things like hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), asthma, eczema and dermatitis.

The effect of health on work includes things like diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions and epilepsy.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has long promoted the need to manage health risks in the construction industry. However, ill-health is often perceived as ‘part of the job’, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. With the right health-at-work (occupational health) scheme in place, employers and workers can manage risks over the long-term, taking preventative action to keep workers healthy.

Further reading on health-at-work risk management is available from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Why is health-at-work in construction so important?

Each year, in construction:

  • 80,000 workers suffer from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their work1
  • Construction workers are 100 times more likely to die from an illness caused by work than from an accident2
  • 1.9 million working days are lost due to work-related ill health1

There’s a perceived lack of understanding about the issues involved in managing health-at-work. And too few construction workers have access to the right occupational health schemes. This can mean the signs of ill-health go unseen, the price of which is paid by the worker later in life.

Our aim is to make it easier to manage health-at-work in the construction industry.

Why isn’t the current approach working?

Because the industry isn’t taking a unified approach.

Before we began, we carried out research to understand how the industry currently operates. It highlighted:

  1. a lack of understanding in the industry of what’s required
  2. that the current model is inefficient
  3. it often delivers poor outcomes for the worker

Read our 2017 research summary paper

Occupational health can be hard to understand, and health and safety legislation is complex. It specifies a requirement for multiple health check-ups (often called health surveillance) at various times, which has led to many employers setting up their own solutions.

This has resulted in different approaches across the industry with some workers undergoing duplicate check-ups, and others having none at all.

But health-at-work isn’t a new thing – the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 introduced the concept. And Regulation 6 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 sets out the key principle of health surveillance.

It’s time to treat health like safety

We believe the current situation is unacceptable. So, we’re working hard to change perceptions, challenge the culture and bring our new occupational health scheme to market.

By adopting a more unified approach to managing health-at-work across the industry, it’ll be easier for employers to comply, and workers will stay healthier for longer.

Work related illness is preventable

Our health-at-work management scheme will catch the symptoms of ill health earlier and make it easier for employers to understand and comply with health and safety legislation. It’s a win/win.

1 Source: Labour Force Survey, 2014/2015-2016/2017
2 Source: Health and Safety Executive, 2015