Every workplace has its hazards, but the construction sector faces a range of safety risks statistically higher than that for workers across all industries. Employing an estimated 2.1 million workers in Great Britain (ONS), those working in construction can be exposed to hazardous substances and chemicals as part of their everyday work.
In the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics (2021) that covers work-related ill health, 13,000 deaths each year are estimated to be linked to past exposure at work, primarily to chemicals or dust, with construction workers having a higher risk of developing diseases from a number of health issues.
Cancer – construction accounts for over 40% of occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations. According to HSE, past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and approximately 3,700 deaths. The most significant cause of these cancers is asbestos (70%), silica (17%) working as a painter and diesel engine exhaust (6-7% each).
Hazardous substances – dusts, isocyanates and potentially harmful mixtures (paints) are common in construction work, emitting dusts, fumes, vapours or gases that can be significant causes of breathing problems and lung diseases. A number of construction-related occupations also have high rates of dermatitis from skin exposures to hazardous substances.
Most hazardous materials enter the body through skin contact and inhalation that can affect the lungs, airways, skin, eyes, and mouth. This exposure can lead to serious health risks from a wide range of substances used in construction work, here's an example of some common ones:
- Silica dust
- Wood dust
- Contaminated land
To prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous substances, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH) set out eight basic measures that need to be taken:
- Assess the risks
- Decide what precautions are necessary
- Prevent or adequately control exposure
- Ensure control measures are used and maintained
- Monitor the exposure
- Carry out appropriate health surveillance
- Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies
- Ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.
COSHH best practice
To help meet the challenge of COSHH management, digital solutions can simplify compliance and help your employees make better choices by:
- Building a chemical inventory and reducing the risk of errors and mis-labelled chemicals and also means you’ll be as ready as you can be if you are audited.
- Access to robust reporting capabilities when it comes to incidents and having a good understanding of where the chemicals are being used in an organisation on which good safety decisions can be made to handle chemicals on a day-to-day basis.
- Digitise COSHH assessments to manage the potential dangers of chemicals and work out what needs to be done to mitigate them, reducing the chances of errors and to standardise processes.
Whether it’s in the construction sector or elsewhere, there is a vital need to follow regulations for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) before it poses a risk to somebody’s health or even fatalities. Breaches in COSHH compliance can result in personal injury claims, fines by the HSE and loss of reputation to your business. Taking a proactive approach will strengthen your safety culture and drive safer outcomes that make a positive difference.
Eco Online Sypol offers a winning combination of chemical management software and COSHH expert advisors.
Watch our webinar on-demand “How to Nail Your COSHH Compliance in Construction” with COSHH and risk management expert Mike Harris where you will learn best practice and how to mitigate risk:
- Overview of COSHH regs specific to the construction industry
- Forms of exposure – solids, liquids, vapours, gases, micro-organisms
- Different exposure routes – inhalation, skin contact, eye contact, ingestion
- When you need a safety data sheet or a COSHH assessment
- Best practice in COSHH management
- How software can help you meet the challenge