Constructing Better Health News Updates

Health Conscious: Are Construction Industry Professionals really helping their Clients to comply with CDM regulations?


Are designers meeting their clients’ expectations regarding health in the supply chain? There are long term benefits to giving their clients good advice in attaining successful Construction and Design Management (CDM) regulation compliance.

While the onus is on clients and contractors to meet the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) CDM regulations for all their projects, designers also have prescribed duties to fulfil under the regulations. In the CDM Regulations and Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), designers are defined as all persons involved in construction work - architects, engineers, surveyors, and design and build contractors.

Contractors (and clients) have collaborated with Constructing Better Health (CBH) to tackle Occupational Health (OH) issues in construction. As CBH members, they have access to solutions that enable health related CDM compliance. CBH has identified key health issues that affect construction workers as a result of their jobs on site. They refer to the skin, respiration, safety critical work, vibration injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. These are issues in which clients are increasingly taking an interest in their supply chains.

CBH, with endorsement from the HSE, began by establishing the National Standards for Occupational Health in Construction in 2007 for work-related health issues and competency of OH service provision. This is now the definitive guide for employers, OH service providers and employees. CBH continued changing industry attitudes regarding worker health and attracting positive attention. A not-for-profit organisation, CBH raised the bar further with the launch of its national database and card scheme. The scheme’s easy transmission of worker’s fit for task outcomes enables management of work related health risks at site level, upon which designers have an influence.

The relationship between design and worker health

CDM duties for designers are specifically prescribed:
• to eliminate hazards where feasible,
• to reduce risks from those hazards that cannot be eliminated,
• provision of information on residual risks if they are significant,
• to consider how the building will be cleaned, maintained and ultimately demolished,
• to ensure that designs for workplaces meet the requirements of the Workplace Regulations.
These duties relate directly to OH solutions for the supply chain; if not managed correctly they may have a future effect on site workers’ health, which is often the case.

This prescribes designers to scrutinise their design choices from a safety and health perspective. Do their designs include toxic finishes? Do they require lengthy and repetitive construction methods that might have physical impact on the human body? Will they present long term risks regarding dismantling? These and other such considerations can have consequent effects on worker health. Yet they could be addressed without compromising creative vision.

While health and safety are recognised in organisations of all sizes there is a significant imbalance of redress between the two; the ratio is probably 95% Safety and 5% Health, not 50/50. The emphasis has rested on the prevention of accidents on site. However, work-related health issues are not so visible, yet workers are exposed to these risks daily with potentially fatal consequences. In fact health issues can be the direct cause of accidents, delay and overrun budgets.

HSE statistics show that In 2008/09 an estimated 93, 000 construction workers suffered from illnesses which was caused or made worse by their job, 1.7 million working days were lost at an estimated cost to industry of £760m. Clients and contractors increasingly realise that worker health in construction directly affects company performance, economic prosperity and even corporate reputation. This was further amplified by the economic downturn.
Even though clients bear the responsibility of meeting their projects’ CDM requirements, there is no guarantee that CDM objectives are met further down the supply chain by Principal and sub-contractors. Are they managing their operatives’ OH safely? Do they have the correct design information to do so? They may not and the HSE statistics allude to this lapse in supply chain vigilance. This is where designers can raise their CDM game by communicating accurate data to trickle down the supply chain.

The new wave

Healthier attitudes mean that CBH now has a growing wealth of key members seeking to improve their OH practices and enhance their businesses. Crossrail is the latest major client to sign up to the CBH Charter to ensure that health surveillance programmes are in place and managed throughout their supply chain. All contractors working for Crossrail will be required to sign up and implement the CBH standards, which will help to protect the health and wellbeing of construction workers involved in project. This is likely to reach up to 14,000 workers at the peak of Crossrail’s construction activity.

In the spring of 2010, Healthcare construction giant Procure21 also signed up to the CBH charter to encourage improvements in the management of Occupational Health throughout the supply chains engaged on the P21 National Framework. This will also continue under the new P21+ National Framework which launches on 1st October 2010.

This was preceded by major supermarket chain, Asda Wal-Mart signing the CBH client charter to encourage a sound Occupational Health culture in their company’s retail development programme.

Apart from being an obvious legal requirement, effective advice to clients on achieving CDM compliance makes good long-term business sense regarding the client/designer relationship. According to the CDM Regulations and ACoP, designers are responsible for designing out foreseeable unnecessary risks and hazard to on-site health as well as site safety. They are also required to cooperate with key parties where necessary, for example, liaise with the CDM Coordinators on notifiable projects and providing key information for them to discharge their duties smoothly. This all makes for a well oiled project machine that is efficient, safe and cost effective – all of these being attributes that may well affect a client’s decision to proffer repeat business.

In a hostile economy, differentiators of service tip the balance between success and failure. If clients show desire to improve standards of Occupational Health in their supply chains, then designers should present themselves as a means by which it can be achieved.

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