Contractor invites NHS nurses on site in pilot scheme designed to improve the health and wellbeing of its workers

BAM Construct is piloting a project that invites nurses onto construction sites to give site workers easy access to healthcare – and send their employer an early warning signal of problems that could impact on site safety or attendance at work.

The project, which is currently running at two sites, is an example of the kind of proactive workplace service the government hopes to encourage with a new set of measures announced at the end of last year and being introduced throughout 2009.

Since June 2008, community NHS nurses Jackie Pepper and Gail Rushton have been running fortnightly drop-in clinics for the 200 site operatives and office staff working at BAM’s £53m Newcastle-under-Lyme college project.

Meanwhile, on the mixed-use Mann Island project in Liverpool, BAM is trialling clinics run by a nurse from private healthcare provider Construction Care, who is working to a protocol drawn up by industry body Constructing Better Health (CBH).

At Newcastle-under-Lyme, sessions start with a ‘toolbox talk’ attended by everyone on site, which has so far covered topics ranging from skin cancer to high cholesterol.

The nurse is then available for confidential one-to-one consultations, with an average of 20 to 25 visits over each four-hour clinic. To book an appointment, workers simply pick up a card printed with a time slot from the notice board in the site canteen.

‘It’s not just about work-related health problems – it’s about general health and well-being,’ says Ivan Gethin, BAM’s projects manager for the college.

The results bear this out. When 27 workers were tested for Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, three were diagnosed as diabetics and four were found to have hypertension. In each case, the nurses have put in place a regime of regular check-ups.

At first, Gethin says that workers were wary, fearing that any information divulged to the nurses would find its way back to BAM site management. But by wearing construction PPE and taking the time to get to know workers, the two nurses have become an accepted and respected part of the site.

Workplace health isn’t like health and safety – it’s not immediate

Michelle Aldous, Constructing Better Health

Gethin argues that BAM’s investment in a workplace health service will pay for itself in terms of goodwill and staff retention. ‘Other industries have been doing this for years,’ he says. ‘It makes people feel valued, and that we’re giving them something back. Our supply chain has bought into the idea, and I’d say it cements loyalty in the supply chain.’ He also reports that visitors from the Considerate Constructors team and the Health and Safety Executive were also enthusiastic.

Michelle Aldous, chief executive of CBH, the not-for-profit organisation set up to improve access to workplace health in the construction industry, argues that the tough trading conditions expected in 2009 are a reason to invest in health services.

‘The key thing smaller contractors need to do is hang on to their experienced workforce. If they are looking after their staff, and have the long-sightedness to look after an individual’s health, that has huge advantages.’ Aldous also welcomes the forthcoming measures from the Department of Health, introduced in response to Dame Carol Black’s 2008 review of occupational health.

‘Training for GPs can’t happen soon enough. At the end of the day they are general practitioners, they’re not familiar with risk management issues [on sites].’

BAM Construct will run the pilot until the college completes in late 2010, monitoring the outcomes to decide if it should be rolled out more widely. However, Gethin points out that the service could be uneconomic on sites with only a small workforce.

Following the success of the clinics, BAM is now starting an NHS anti-smoking clinic on the site, and planning a blood donation clinic. ‘This initiative is growing arms and legs and running all over the place,’ says Gethin.

According to Aldous, BAM’s initiative is a bright spot in a gloomy picture. ‘Workplace health isn’t like health and safety – it’s not immediate. You can’t see the manifestation of respiratory disease, or even hand arm vibration, so it’s easy to put health on the back burner. But we kill 20 tradesmen a week with asbestos-related disease, we’ve got a huge problem with health and should be dealing with it.’

Should contractors take more responsibility for workforce health?

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