Health & Safety: A Construction Success Story?
Controversial? Yes, there’s no disputing that the construction industry has a fatal injury rate over 3.5 times the average rate for all industries. That is as unacceptable now as ever.
No-one should go to work and not return home to their family after their shift.
We all have a responsibility to act; to work together to build a safer and healthier industry.
But let’s look at the facts. Just over 15 years ago, in February 2001, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott convened a major Construction Safety summit. He challenging the industry to implement and deliver change, calling for a 40% reduction in deaths and serious injuries by 2005 and a 60% reduction by 2010.
Unlike many targets, set and forgotten about or revised as time moves on, the 2001 targets were not just set, they were met, with the construction industry across the UK making great progress in managing site safety.
The result? A significant reduction in the incidence of serious injuries and fatalities and an overall downward trend in the rate of workplace injuries, of 40% over a decade. The number of fatalities has fallen by two thirds, thanks to the great efforts and achievements of everyone in the industry.
However, while strides forward have been made in safety, health risks have not received the same level of attention until more recently. The HSE estimate that last year, 79,000 people whose current or most recent job was in construction, suffered from an illness caused or made worse by the job they did. 1 in 5 illnesses involved stress, depression or anxiety.
That is why CECA has launched Stop. Make a Change, aimed at encouraging sites, offices and production facilities across the country to put work on hold and focus for a few hours on how to improve health and well-being in the infrastructure sector.
Last year, mental health charity, The Samaritans, revealed that suicide killed 6 times as many construction workers as falls from height. It’s an alarming fact that in the construction sector, employees are more likely to die from suicide than from on-site accidents, with workers in the industry more likely to commit suicide than in any other sector of the economy.
This is not a record to be proud of. It’s time to act, to change and to take the necessary steps to transform workplace health and give it the same status as workplace safety. That is why 3 of the 4 Stop. Make a Change themes focus on health and wellbeing –respiratory health, fatigue and mental health.
Despite the real progress in site safety and in work related physical illnesses, the HSE report that levels of work related stress, depression and anxiety have remained the same over the past decade or so.
With the World Health Organisation predicting that depression will be the second biggest health problem by 2020 and with 1 in 4 Scots experiencing mental health issues over the course of a year, there is simply no option not to act.
If we are to recruit and retain the brightest talent into our industry, then construction needs to change. Employers can and must work in partnership to make mental health in the workplace as important as physical health; by increasing awareness among all employees, so problems can be spotted early and appropriate action taken; taking practical steps to end the stigma that surrounds talking about mental health issues at work.
I am confident that in the next decade the construction industry will rise to the challenge and act to make the change, giving health and wellbeing in the workplace the status it rightly deserves.
Grahame Barn is CECA Scotland’s Chief Executive