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HSE RESEARCH TO ASSESS ROOFWORKER CANCER RISK

Industry hears of HSE approach to managing construction health risks

At a meeting on 14 November 2012 the Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC) is considering an update on the HSE approach to improving standards of managing health risks in the construction industry. In particular, work carried out  that will contribute to reducing the burden of occupational cancer risk highlighted by Dr Lesley Rushton.

HSE believes that:

“progress and improvements in the management of health risks in construction have not kept pace with improvements in safety performance even at the better-organised end of the industry”. 

A relevant factor is the immediacy of most safety issues in comparison to the long latency of most health related conditions. The fact that many cancers for example may take many years to develop contributes to an attitude among many that “it won’t happen to me”.

Key research initiatives in progress

Two research initiatives with the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) are underway which are both anticipated to be of value in future work initiatives. These are:

  • Polyclyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons – reviewing all hazardous substance exposures in the construction workplace with a view to identifying any ‘gaps’ in our knowledge to help prioritise our efforts e.g. Dr Rushton’s work identified a peak of cancer registrations due to PAH (polyclyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) exposure in construction. This research is therefore looking at all PAHs, ie. bitumen materials and coal tar pitches to establish whether this is a historical issue ( as coal tars are no longer used) or whether there is an ongoing real hazardous substance exposure issue e.g. in the roofing industry.
  • Health Management Competence – looking at producing a self-assessment tool for dutyholders on their competence to manage occupational health issues. Termed ‘HeRMMIn’ (Health Risk Management Maturity Index), it is envisaged this will provide a useful leading indicator for health where little such measures currently exist.

HSE highlight that in 2010-11 more than three times as many working days were lost due to workplace ill-health (1.7 million) than due to workplace injury (0.5 million). Whilst there were 49 fatal injuries to construction workers in 2010-11, each year there may be as many as 100 times as many workers lives lost through occupational disease.

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