Macho culture contributes towards high levels of illness among site workers

One third of construction workers suffer from occupational health issues related to noise and vibration, according to a new report.

The report, by Constructing Better Health, looked at the results of an occupational health scheme pilot carried out in the Midlands from October 2004 to June 2006.

Health and safety equipment

More than 1,700 workers had voluntary health checks, one third of whom were referred to their GPs with occupational and general health issues. The checks showed that one third of workers suffer from occupational health issues rising from exposure to noise and vibration, which can cause hearing loss and carpal tunnel syndrome.

One third of those checked suffered from general health issues such as high blood pressure and respiratory illness. Workers suffered from either type of problem or both.

The pilot was devised by CBH to raise awareness of occupational health issues and examine how a national health scheme would be rolled out.

As well as risk assessments, health training, and talks with CBH staff, the pilot offered on-site voluntary health checks with a qualified nurse or technician. The report found that take-up for the scheme was high.

CBH chair Trevor Walker said: “We did reach the workforce, and the pilot gained considerable momentum but there’s still a long way to go. We think we’ve got an industry of ‘macho men’, and we don’t realise that a physical industry is bound to have physical effects”.

The report concludes that the main barrier to bringing occupation health to construction workers is at the managerial level, and not through lack of interest from workers.

It says: “Individuals within the sector are interested in their own health and taking steps to protect it, despite what employers might think. Managers are the ones who do not want to scrutinise their work practices, and who are unwilling to accept the need for organisational-level change.”

The CBH hopes to launch a national occupational health scheme before the end of the year.