Street works, Landscaping and the Occupational Ill-Health Time Bomb
Over the last few days, I’ve watched with fascination, not to say a little concern, as workmen finished the street works on a new housing development near my home.
First came the prep work – lots of pneumatic drills and disc cutting. I wandered over, as you do, to ask why nobody thought to wear hearing or eye protection. I mean, its hardly as controversial as stopping Big Ben to prevent hearing loss now, is it? Their answer – “What?” Funny, I know. But it’s what they then said that got me – “We’ve got the gear in the van” or words to that effect. Surely wearing ‘the gear’ should be automatic in this day and age, with the risk of noise induced hearing loss being so widely recognised and no doubt drummed (no pun intended) into people. The HSE estimate that around 20,000 people suffered from Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) in the last year (2016) – I suppose many of those ‘had the gear in the van’.
After the prep came the asphalting. Lots of dust and fumes, plus manual handling issues. The cumulative effect on one’s health of that lot must be significant. I wondered if anyone had done a CoSHH assessment on exposure to bitumen fume, diesel fume, silica etc. One-off jobs might not be especially problematic, but regular and repeated exposures are another story.
This morning I saw a local landscaper at work. He’d come to trim the grass on an area of green space. Armed with a petrol strimmer he set about his task, seemingly unconcerned by hazards such as flying debris, noise and vibration; he didn’t seem to recognise the need for eye or hearing protection. He did have his hi-vis on, so I guess that’s something (although I wonder what benefit it might have had on a grassed area with no traffic about, but never mind). Presumably, like the road workers, he didn’t realise the harm he might be causing himself.
Now I’m not about wrapping people up in cotton wool, but there comes a point where we have to recognise that more needs to be done to protect workers. The thing about occupational ill health conditions is that they sneak up you, so all the more reason to raise awareness – especially when people are working alone or in small groups away from the supervisor’s beady eye.
People who suffer chronic and sometimes life-limiting illnesses often don’t realise that anything is wrong until they find it hard to climb stairs or they can’t carry on a conversation.
Think about it – do you ever find yourself turning up the car radio when you leave work at the end of a day? It was loud enough when you drove into work, so what do you suppose might have changed while at work to cause you to feel the need to turn up the volume on the way home? I wonder.
Such casual disregard of basic health and safety precautions makes me wonder – is this down to the individual or is it a failure on the part of the employer? Then I realise, that’s something of a moot point. If a worker winds up being deaf, sustains eye trauma, develops a lung disease or Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome caused by his or her work, then there is every possibility that the employer might be found liable if sued for damages. From an enforcement standpoint, it wouldn’t be unimaginable for employers to be issued with enforcement notices requiring them to address the deficiencies. But the worst thing is that an estimated 13000 people die of occupational ill health conditions in the UK each year, while 1.3 million people each year are known to suffer from occupational illness, causing an estimated 30.4 million lost working days and costing an estimated £9.3 billion – EACH YEAR.
None of these conditions is inevitable; all are preventable.
The real tragedy is that many of the conditions outlined above are so easy to prevent. The assessment needn’t be long or complex, but it is necessary. A healthy dose of common sense and proper consideration of risks might help some of the workers I’ve mentioned to avoid becoming statistics.
Does your company need support and advice in raising awareness of occupational health issues? Don’t know where or how to start? Drop us a line or call for a no-obligation discussion. It may help.