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Committing Construction to a Healthier Future summit - London 21 January 2016

Dame Judith Hackitt DBE, HSE Chair

Good morning and a big thank you to everyone that has helped make this event happen – from the organisers to esteemed speakers and most of all you – the industry leaders who see the importance of what we all collectively need to achieve to benefit the industry, workers and wider economy, which is why you are here today.

I’ve had the privilege as the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive for over 8 years to see just what can be achieved in the Construction Industry when everyone comes together with a shared commitment to deliver a new level of performance and to put workable solutions into practice. I have seen what you can do – and it is impressive. Performance across the industry isn’t uniformly good yet though and dealing with health risks in particular requires a step change in thinking.

Before Christmas, HSE began conversations with employers, workers and their representatives about shaping priorities for the new health and safety system strategy, called ‘Helping Great Britain work well’. The purpose of today’s event fits hand in glove with the strategy themes. I won’t cover its six themes in detail today but will mention three of the key elements which are relevant:

Ownership of the health and safety system - It starts with you. It’s about identifying the most important challenges, in your case in the Construction Industry - and developing ways of taking collective ownership.

Health – tackling the burden of ill-health and its consequence for you and your employees is essential and what today is all about; and

Boosting Britain’s businesses - we will only achieve better health outcomes, and safety, if businesses – especially SMEs – recognise that it is an integral part of business success. To get there they must be able to get the right information and take the right action easily and efficiently. The best large businesses and intermediaries are already gaining more efficient supply chains and productive relationships by pointing the SMEs they deal with in the right direction without imposing the need for over complicated advice or unnecessary barriers and costs to doing business.

But tackling health is about boosting business through increased motivation and productivity as well.

It is great that you are already tackling some of those key topics. Occupational disease is one of the biggest issues facing all businesses, but especially the construction industry. Significant progress has been made on safety, yet management of health risks has not received the same level of attention and are progress is much slower. Deaths arising from past exposure to asbestos, dusts and chemicals account for about 95% of all work-related fatalities, and ill health accounts for more than double the working days lost to safety issues. New thinking – and action- is required and now is the time to ensure the industry ‘Thinks Health’.

The construction industry itself must drive forward improvement - it has a good track record on leadership and culture change in relation to safety risk management – now it needs to apply that leadership to provide much better management and control of health risks.

Saving on the cost of employee accidents and ill health is not only an investment in the future of your business – it will also yield benefits in the short term. Showing your workforce that you care about their health and well-being now and for the long term boosts productivity and motivation, leading to less sick leave and greater worker retention.

By far the largest element in your employer’s liability insurance premium will be related to long tail liability – that means work related health issues that may have a long latency – like silica – so by demonstrating that you are managing things well, premiums going forward are more likely to reduce through good practice on work related health.

The deaths from past exposures within the industry are an on-going tragedy for those involved and their loved ones – because these are long term health risks which may not manifest themselves for years, this is no reason for them to be poorly managed, leaving workers and the industry overexposed – to health and business risks. At times when there are real pressures from skills shortages in the industry, people will choose to work for those employers who show that they care. Caring constructors, care not just about safety but about health. There is a real opportunity here to improve the industry’s image to enable recruitment, and future sustainability is key to supporting wider government strategy1 .

Managing and controlling health risks will require some different thinking to managing safety risks but it is both possible and practical to carry out construction work without causing ill-health. Control the risks, don’t wait for the symptoms to manifest themselves, and be proactive in stopping people being exposed in the first place. Be clear that your focus is on the health risks associated with work. If your programmes choose to extend into more general well-being then manage those boundaries between work and personal lifestyle choices sensitively

Too often larger parts of the construction industry have focussed on the recording and monitoring of illness rather than trying to prevent it. We believe that health outcomes can improve for employers and employees alike and that everybody has something to gain from progress in this area. We are talking about key work related issues such as:

On our recent health specific initiative, 570 sites were visited, resulting in 13 Prohibition Notices and 108 Improvement Notices on health. This highlights the on-site challenges, but also that more attention needs to be focussed in preventing or implementing the steps to control health risks before work starts, in particular by those designing and commissioning the work.

All CDM duty holders, from workers to leaders, have a role to play in achieving success. Construction has a disproportionate slice of the ill health burden and the industry needs to start ‘Thinking Health’ to get the right results.

This is not an initiative which requires the generation of yet more volumes of paperwork. It is about getting personal with your workforce and showing that you care about them. That is what will deliver the benefits to you, your business and your workforce.

We would also expect your thinking on health to address issues of the future as well as those of the present and legacy issues of the past. Future issues may include an ageing workforce, new employees who may not be prepared for the physical nature of the work, communication and cultural challenges with migrant labour, the economic need to be more efficient and the emergence of new technology which can present opportunities for risk elimination or present new risks to be managed.

In GB we have world class companies delivering world class projects. Addressing the management of health risk issues needs to be an integral part of running your business in 2016 and there are expectations on blue chip organisations to fulfil their corporate social responsibility. This will also help to protect your business from the increasing propensity to make civil claims, for example the recent rise in noise induced hearing loss claims, whilst also protecting against the serious reputational damage associated with getting things wrong.

You are helping to build a safer, healthier and more prosperous industry and, in turn, Helping Great Britain work well.

Thank you for being here today. We look forward to supporting you as you lead this sector in building a healthier future for construction.

1 Construction 2025

Updated 2016-03-24