That is one of the headline findings from Raising the bar for occupational health management in construction, a research paper presented by the publishing arm of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
The research, carried out by Loughborough University, with input from the Thames Tideway Tunnel project in London, noted that construction safety management has increasingly become incorporated into project management and that OSH professionals have landed an advisory role, supporting construction managers who have overall responsibility for delivery.
However, the researchers found that this structural arrangement hasn’t been applied consistently across industry when it comes to the management of health risks. They also reported that OSH professionals don’t always have the expertise to provide the support needed.
Major projects like Thames Tideway Tunnel are critical to raising the standards of health management, but also good practices will need to be universally adopted in small-to-medium-sized enterprises if improvements throughout the construction sector are to be sustained in the future
The three-year research project, which was funded by IOSH, put forward a number of reasons for this discrepancy. These included OSH professionals not having adequate knowledge to provide support and the reluctance of managers and OSH professionals to become involved in issues, which they see as ‘personal’.
One of the key sources of expertise needed to support managers and OSH professionals – occupational hygienists – are a relatively recent addition to UK construction, the paper reported. However, increasing the availability of these experts beyond major projects like Thames Tideway Tunnel remains a challenge due to the national shortfall in the number of hygienists available. The researchers said that the scarcity in occupational hygienists meant it was even more important that construction managers and OSH professionals had a stronger understanding of health risks.
The findings, which will be explored in greater detail in a forthcoming IOSH Magazine feature, included proposals for a range of interventions, which would create a more consistent approach to occupational health management and health surveillance, and improve the commitment to better training and improved portability of occupational health data.
Professor Alistair Gibb, who headed up the research at Loughborough University, said: “Major projects like Thames Tideway Tunnel are critical to raising the standards of health management, but also good practices will need to be universally adopted in small-to-medium-sized enterprises if improvements throughout the construction sector are to be sustained in the future.”