Pilot studies into practicality of national scheme will examine issues such as stress and asbestosis.
The Health and Safety Executive is to launch a series of pilot studies into the health of the construction workforce this autumn, to prepare the ground for a national occupational health scheme.

The studies will focus on specific construction-related health risks, such as hand-arm vibration problems, and look at issues such as stress and asbestosis. The pilots come after feasibility studies carried out by independent consultants for the HSE's Health Directorate.

A Health Directorate spokesperson said: "The specifications for the pilots are still in their early stages, but they will be completed by the autumn with pilots hopefully under way in early 2003."

He said specifications for tenders to run the schemes were being considered, although funding has not yet been allocated. The spokesperson added that winning firms would have to prove they are capable of carrying out occupational health assessments and providing health advice.

The national scheme is being developed by health and safety specialist Sypol. Lawrence Waterman, managing director of Sypol, said the pilots were likely to concentrate on particular regions and industry sectors.

According to Waterman, the pilots could be developed from Department of Health occupational health research in other industries.

One of the proposals being considered by the Health Directorate is whether a national scheme should involve collating and administering the health records of every construction worker.

It has been proposed that not-for-profit construction insurance and pension provider B&CE could administer the scheme.

John Jory, B&CE deputy chief executive, said: "We are very supportive of any developments that lead to the setting up of a national occupational scheme and have expressed an interest to administer it once funding is in place."

As part of a sector-wide focus on health, contractors Amec and Kier are training their directors and senior management on occupational health issues and making them aware of the possibility of a national scheme.

Kier Group health and safety manager John Morgan said that divisional directors across Kier had already undergone health awareness training.