HSA blitz to target most common construction workplace illnesses and injuries

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will undertake a nationwide series of inspections on construction sites in an effort to reduce the rate of injury and death in the sector.

The blitz, beginning today (October 21st), will target sites across the country over the next two weeks, focusing on hazards such as silica dust and asbestos generated during refurbishment and demolition work.

The safety campaign coincides with the European Week for Safety and Health at Work, which has as its theme ‘Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances. It also occurs at the same time as Construction Safety Week 2019, and other issues targeted include work at height and manual handling risk management, which can result in the onset of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including back injury.

Inspectors will be focusing on this area as a total of 204 manual handling incidents were reported in the industry last year, which represents more than a quarter of all non-fatal construction incidents. Meanwhile, 271 of the non-fatal incidents in construction involved sprains and strains.

As many of these health problems develop over time, HSA Assistant Chief Executive Mark Cullen said more must be done to ensure the future health of workers is not compromised.

Calling on employers to be aware that preventing work-related illnesses is as important as preventing accidents, he said: “This enforcement initiative will help prevent long term illnesses for workers and ensure that they can remain healthy and safe on the job.

“With nearly 150,000 employees in the construction industry in Ireland, I am urging industry bodies, employers, trade unions and employees to come together so that all construction workers can return home safe and healthy from work every evening.”

“Exposure to hazardous substances in construction, usually through breathing in dust or fumes, can lead to a variety of negative health implications from minor irritation to cancer.

“Many of these diseases are long term and worsen over time. Prevention is the best strategy, and it is essential that there is an awareness of the dangers and appropriate control measures are put in place. These include using less harmful materials, local exhaust ventilation, using water to suppress dusts, and providing suitable Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE).”

HSA inspectors are proactively visiting and inspecting construction sites to check for:

  • Exposure to silica dust, which can occur anywhere that concrete, stone or sand based materials are being used. If inhaled it can cause serious lung disease such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Silicosis and potentially lung cancer.
  • Presence of the banned substance asbestos, which can be found in any building built or refurbished before 2000. It only becomes hazardous when disturbed and fibres are released into the air. If inhaled, it may lead to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.
  • Workers involved in activities including the manual handling of stone cladding units, glazing and other materials, which can expose workers to the risk of musculoskeletal injury or ill health if not addressed appropriately.

Construction Safety Week follows a similar initiative last year, when the HSA carried out 362 site inspections and enforcement action was taken in 37 cases. The campaign highlighted the need for risk assessments for hazardous dusts and chemicals and emphasised the requirement for Safety Data Sheets to be available on site.

Construction Safety Week 2019 is held in conjunction with a range of partners including the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), ESB and the Construction Safety Partnership Advisory Committee (CSPAC). This week CSPAC members will organise safety initiatives that include promotional videos, social media campaigns and training workshops.

Construction workers can access BeSMART.ie, the HSA’s free online safety management and risk assessment tool here and for further information on safety week, visit here. HSA publications and guidance for the construction sector are available at www.hsa.ie