Controlling exposures to prevent occupational lung disease in the construction industry
Construction Health Summit for CEOs
Press release: 18th January 2016
Over 150 chief executive officers and other senior leaders in the construction industry will meet in London at an inaugural Construction Health Summit on 21 January 2016 to commit to a healthier future and “managing health like safety” in the sector, in a move which has been warmly welcomed by BOHS and the Breathe Freely initiative.
The event has been organised by the Health in Construction Leadership Group, an alliance of contractors, clients, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other trade and professional bodies, including BOHS.
The Construction Health Summit will put the spotlight on tackling the occupational health risks faced by construction workers, building on existing work already undertaken in the sector with the aim of drastically reducing occupational diseases in construction.
CEOs at the event will commit to “managing health like safety,” ensuring that the success achieved by the industry in improving safety practices on construction sites is replicated in the context of work-related health so that health and safety are given equal priority in future.
Workers across all sectors are 100 times more likely to die as a result of a work-related disease than a fatal accident in the workplace.
In the construction industry, the latest provisional figures indicate that 35 workers were fatally injured during 2014/15. However, estimates suggest that each year 3,500 former construction workers die of occupational cancer each year, with most of these deaths caused by breathing in carcinogenic substances such as asbestos, silica, and painting and diesel engine exhaust fumes.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), such as bronchitis and emphysema, is another major concern, with an estimated 4,000 annual work-related deaths across all sectors, and the construction sector being among the top five industries for deaths from COPD.
This disproportionate fatal risk associated with lung cancer and other occupational respiratory ill health is something the Breathe Freely initiative aims to address and corresponds fully with the commitments of the Construction Health Summit.
However, the risk of fatalities is only part of the picture in striving for a healthier future for the construction industry. It should be noted that more than one million working days a year are currently lost due to work-related ill health conditions in Britain’s construction sector. This enormous loss is caused by conditions such as back injuries and limb problems as well as other illnesses such as skin diseases caused by exposure to hazardous materials and work-related respiratory disorders that can come from inhaling dust and diesel emissions.
The Construction Health Summit will seek to explore the root causes of these 1.2 million lost working days due to work-related ill health in the sector, with the aim of bringing about a significant reduction in this burden borne by workers and the industry.
Commenting on the Summit, Judith Hackitt, Chair of the HSE, noted the record of the construction sector in tackling on-site accidents and called for greater parity in future between workplace health and safety.
She said, “The number of on-site related fatalities has fallen by two-thirds in the past 10 years due to a concerted and joined-up effort by the construction industry. We can have a similar impact on the health of the workforce with an equally determined effort by the industry and its supporting organisations.”
Steve Perkins, CEO of BOHS, said, “The Construction Health Summit will be a great way to bring key industry figures together to tackle one of the major issues facing the sector. The support we have seen from employers in the construction sector in taking on board the practical solutions for respiratory health offered by our Breathe Freely initiative indicates that work is already well under away in the sector to manage health like safety.”
He added, “As a member of the Health in Construction Leadership Group, we at BOHS are delighted to be involved in this event which fits so well with the aims of Breathe Freely, and our ultimate vision as the Chartered Society for worker health protection.”
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