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HSE to take action against construction firms over worker respiratory risk

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Next week The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will carry out a month-long inspection initiative looking at respiratory risks and occupational lung disease in the construction sector.

The inspection programme, which will start on 5 October, will also examine whether firms are protecting their workers from the risk of coronavirus and if workplaces are Covid-secure.

In addition to respiratory risk, inspectors will be able to take enforcement action if they identify other areas of concern, including whether workers are protected from Covid-19. The HSE identified “Covid-security” as a critical health risk, and said one of the reasons for the inspection programme was to align with the wider government agenda to get people back to workplaces safely and support economic recovery.

“Inspections of this sort are not out of the ordinary for the sector,” says Health and safety law expert Sean Elson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law News.

“This is continuing evidence of the drive-in relation to occupational health and respiratory conditions in particular. What is interesting is that the HSE as the Covid regulator has flagged that they will be using this programme to look at how duty holders are managing the Covid-19 risk at a project level. The HSE will be keen to show that it is taking action in relation to the pandemic and playing its part in employers taking adequate measures.”

The health-focused initiative is the fourth of its kind, with a focus on what measures construction firms are using to protect workers from the likes of asbestos, silica and wood dust. At the same time, the HSE is launching a campaign aimed at influencing employer behaviour by encouraging builders to download free guidance and advice, according to Out-Law news.

According to the HSE, over 3,500 construction workers die every year from work-related cancer while thousands of others lose working days due to illness.

The construction initiative will be supported by HSE’s ‘Dustbuster’ campaign, aimed to influence employer behaviour by encouraging builders to download free guidance and advice, increasing knowledge and capability to protect workers’ health.

More than 3,500 builders die each year from cancers related to their work, with thousands more cases of ill-health and working days lost.

HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Sarah Jardine, said: “Around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are actually killed in construction accidents.”

Jardine says that there are a few simple things that everyone can do to make sure they are protecting their health and their future.

“Be aware of the risks associated with activities you do every day, recognise the dangers of hazardous dust and consider how it can affect your health. We want businesses and their workers to think of the job from start to finish and avoid creating dust by working in different ways to keep dust down and wear the right mask and clothing,” says Jardine.

For more information on the programme of inspections follow the campaign on Twitter at @H_S_E, or on Facebook @hsegovuk and @SaferSites. You can also join the conversation at #Dustbuster. To sign up for HSE’s construction e-bulletin go to: hse.gov.uk/construction/infonet.htm

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