Construction Clients Group aims to tackle the “ticking time bomb” of poor occupational health

The industry will be asked to tackle the “ticking time bomb” of poor occupational health under a new drive spearheaded by the Construction Clients Group (CCG).

The group, which is part of Constructing Excellence and represents top clients including Land Securities, Royal Mail, M&S and Crossrail, is highlighting the fact that construction is the industrial sector with the largest occupational cancer burden, equating to more than 40% of all occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations.

Exposure to asbestos and silica, coal tars, diesel fumes and the chemicals found in some paints can all cause cancer and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates more than 5,000 occupational cancer cases arise annually in construction as a result of past exposures.

While the construction industry accounts for less than 10% of the UK’s working population, 56% of occupational cancer registrations are construction related, while in 2010/11 98% of construction work related deaths were caused by ill health contracted whilst working in the construction sector.

The need to tackle the issue was raised by the government’s chief construction adviser Peter Hansford in his speech at the Government Construction Summit last week.

CCG director Gren Tipper said that a “call-to-arms” on construction safety by former deputy prime minister John Prescott in 2002 had led to a significant fall in accidents but had not focused sufficiently on occupational health.

“We want to resurrect the drive to improve health,” he said.

“Although the biggest contractors have made strides on this in recent years, the supply chain below struggles with this.

“The figures on occupational cancers are phenomenally high but people lose sight of this.

“Asbestos is in the past but we don’t know what tomorrow’s asbestos will be.”

The CCG will now undertake a “mapping exercise” to establish a clearer picture of the problem and how it is already being addressed.

In a separate announcement, the HSE said the number of workers killed in UK construction has fallen sharply with 39 fatal injuries recorded in the year to March 2013 compared with 48 the previous year.