HSE target Construction Sector in Health Inspection Initiative during October 2020

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HSE target Construction Sector in Health Inspection Initiative during October 2020

Published 29 septiembre 2020

The HSE will be carrying out its latest construction health initiative between Monday 5 and Friday 30 October. As with recent health inspection initiatives, the focus will be on respiratory risks. As COVID-security is a critical health risk, it will also be covered by the initiative.

HSE have made it clear that this is not a one-off initiative but is part of HSE’s wider-phased, strategic plan developed to improve health within the construction industry. It is also aligned with the wider agenda of the government to support economic recovery by helping people return to the workplace safely.

This initiative is part of HSE’s response to the recommendation within the All Party Parliamentary Group For Respiratory Health’s recent report “Silica – the next asbestos?” that a targeted industry awareness campaign is developed and implemented for those at risk of developing silicosis which is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos.

The main dust-related diseases affecting construction workers are: lung cancer; silicosis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Construction workers have a high risk of developing these diseases because many common construction tasks can create high dust levels. Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) which is created when it is fractured through processes such as stonecutting and drilling. The HSE estimates that over 500 construction workers die from exposure to silica dust each year.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) is the key legislation covering activities which may expose workers to construction dust.  This requires employers and those in control of the activities to assess and control the risks and review the controls. If the controls do not stop the creation of dust the use of water or on-tool extraction are the two main ways of stopping the dust from getting into the air. If these controls are not appropriate or do not reduce exposure enough then respiratory protective equipment (RPE) may have to be supplied - but organisations should be aware that the HSE regard the use of RPE as a last line of protection and if workers are only relying on RPE then this will need to be justified to the HSE. Click here for the HSE’s Information Sheet on construction dust.

In addition, if employers are exposing their workforce to hazards and risks (including RCS) where there is a disease associated with the substance, they are also obliged to provide health surveillance under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The upcoming initiative will involve HSE inspectors looking for evidence of employers and workers' understanding of the risks, planning their work and using the correct control measures. The HSE will if necessary, take enforcement action which will include not only the issuing of prohibition and improvement notices but there could prosecutions as we have seen during previous campaigns involving unannounced HSE inspections in this sector.

Organisations should be aware that although the primary focus will be on respiratory risks and occupational lung disease during these inspections, if HSE inspectors identify other areas of concern they will take the necessary enforcement action to deal with such concerns. In particular, given the current pandemic, this will inevitably include checking that businesses in the construction sector are making workplaces COVID-secure.

It is essential therefore that organisations review their current arrangements to ensure that they are compliant with the regulations and that their employees are able to explain their understanding of the risks and demonstrate what procedures are in place to prevent exposure at source or, where this is not possible, to reduce the risk of harm to as low as is reasonably practicable.

New CLC Guidance for Face Coverings to Protect against Coronavirus

Although the existing government guidance does not require the use of face coverings and/or additional PPE in response to coronavirus whilst carrying out construction activities, organisations should be aware that, following the introduction of new restrictions by the government last week, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) updated its statement on face coverings on 29th September. The CLC now recommends  that face coverings are worn where workers on site are not required to wear RPE and their workplace meets all of the following criteria: (i) an enclosed space (ii) where social distancing is not always possible; and (iii) where they come into contact with others they do not normally meet. Click here for more information.

DAC Beachcroft’s leading Regulatory team has extensive experience of advising individuals and organisations being investigated by the HSE in respect of all risks arising from construction activities including exposure to silica dust and asbestos. If you are unhappy with any actions taken by the HSE such as the service of improvement notices as a result of inspections as part of this initiative then please contact us for further advice.

Authors

Chris Baranowski

Chris Baranowski

Leeds

+44 (0) 113 251 4842

Sally Roff

Sally Roff

Newport

+44 (0)163 365 7780

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