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No place for safety washing – ‘work right’ all the time

Posted on October 14, 2022

From October 3rd , construction sites are being targeted as part of a health inspection initiative under the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Work Right campaign. It’s about raising awareness of the health issues that can result from moving and handling materials. It aims to help smaller businesses and workers understand how they can reduce the risk of ill health, injury and fatalities in the construction sector.

It will see HSE inspectors visiting construction sites to check that employers and workers know the risks, are planning their work properly and are using sensible control measures to protect workers.

According to the HSE, lifting and moving heavy objects on construction sites is harming the health of thousands of brickies and builders to such a degree that every aspect of their lives is affected.

I may be wrong, but HSE’s Work Right campaign I believe to be a new name for an ongoing programme – after all good health and safety practice on construction sites is never not an issue.

Even if it’s well done and it works, it always needs to be monitored, with new people coming into the sector and others leaving. It can also, unfortunately, be easy to let standards and control measures slip.

And of course, we still have preventable fatalities and injuries on sites. The latest provisional Government RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) figures say that 123 people died in work related accidents in 2021/22.

The sector with the highest figure, of 30, is construction – that’s more than two workers a month.

Incidentally 29 of those 123 deaths came from falling from height and 14 were caused from being trapped by something overturning or collapsing – working safely at height and towers will be the
subject of a future blog.

For the Work Right campaign to be effective long term though it needs to be adopted by all businesses involved in construction and to be uniformly adhered to on every site. It’s no good happening on one site and not another with the itinerant nature of construction work.

It is a good and worthwhile initiative but it’s sad that we need to highlight that this needs to be done. Sad, also because the 123 people who died at work last year weren’t returned safely home at the end of the working day!

I worry too that there’s a lack of teeth to it. As we know some employers are forward thinking and aim always to do the right thing and plan each job appropriately, but then there are others who do it because it makes them look good – ‘safety washing’ – and there are still others who won’t do it at all unless they are forced to or do everything they can not to change.

This campaign though is also about longer-term health and safety concerns. Firstly, and obviously, encouraging a change of culture on construction sites, and secondly, health in general and around specific health topics like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorders (COPD), controlling dust, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), stress etc (I’ve said many times in these pages that while we are good at safety in the UK we are less good at health.)

So this then is a positive step in that direction too, not least because it is working in tandem with many other initiatives – September’s launch of Mates in Mind’s Suicide Day prevention resource hub for employers springs to mind. The construction sector sees a higher than average rate of suicide, with two construction workers dying by suicide every day, an astonishing figure.

HSE’s Work Right campaign, as well as those tackling mental health issues, might help get people on board and raise awareness with organisations, but they should be doing it already.

The reason I don’t burgle someone’s house isn’t out of a fear of being caught, it’s because it’s wrong.

This is the same. All employers should make health and safety control measures for their employees top of their list every day, because it’s right to do so.

This should always be about more than just compliance. A positive safety culture starts at the top and people in those positions need to be seen to lead by example, make it a priority and not just pay lip service to health and safety.

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