Building blocksOn 1 Apr 2000 in Personnel Today The drive to reduce back injuries in construction is an opportunity for OHto lend its skills and knowledge to a sector badly in need of risk management. By Lorraine Shepherd Construction workers suffer more from occupational ill-health than fromaccidents in the workplace. And the sector’s record on managing health risks isat least as bad as it is on managing safety risks. Every year more than one-quarter of all construction accidents reported toHealth and Safety Executive1 involve manual handling. It also accounts forabout three-quarters of all ill-health in construction, according to the recentHSE survey of self-reported, work-related illness2. By its very nature construction work involves lots of manual handling, suchas laying heavy building blocks, erecting scaffolds, moving sheet materials,placing kerbstones and installation work. And as such the industry cannotafford to ignore the potential for injury. Not only is it unacceptable forhealth and safety reasons, but managing it properly also makes good businesssense. HSE guidance In response to this problem the HSE has published practical guidelines onthe construction sector called Backs for the Future – Safe Manual Handling inConstruction3. Launched by HSE chief inspector of construction Kevin Myers inFebruary, it is supported by the Construction Confederation, the GMB union andcontractors. Using a series of case studies, the guidance looks at ways in which realmanual handling risks on construction sites have been reduced in practice. Manyof the solutions to the manual handling problems identified in the booklet aresimple, cost-effective measures that have been developed by designers, contractorsand workers. What is evident is that manual handling problems are not intractable. Bytaking an innovative approach, most problems can be solved. And the earlier inthe procurement process these problems are addressed, the more cost-effectivethe solution. Whose problem? Everyone involved with construction projects can introduce manual handlingrisks and must play their part in controlling those risks. Under theConstruction Design and Management (CDM) regulations, 1994, which apply to mostconstruction work, everyone involved in the construction process must haveadequate regard to health and safety. Backs for the Future sets out the basicprinciples for dealing with manual handling risks and provides a flexibleframework for action. The guide describes common manual handling risks and looks at how they canbe tackled through better planning, control and management. For this approachto work everyone in the sector, from clients to employees, must play theirpart. Key players, such as clients, can use the guidance to help them decide whatinformation they need to provide about the site and any constraints it couldplace upon manual handling during the construction phase. Designers will findthe resource useful in its advice on how to avoid risk through specification.For example, specifying lighter weight building blocks will avoid commonproblems. Lighter blocks can still meet the building regulation requirements onnoise transmission, which is the reason usually given to justify the need forheavier blocks. Planning supervisors can use the guidance to help them meet their dutiesunder the CDM regulations, such as making sure that the site is planned so thathandling equipment can be easily used. Contractors will find advice on identifying and tackling manual handlingrisks by improving poor practices and ensuring workers are instructed in safehandling techniques. The guidance can give employees an understanding of how they can co-operatewith their employer in following the safe systems of work laid down for dealingwith handling tasks. And, we must not forget the manufacturers and supplierswho have an important role to play in ensuring loads are properly packaged andsecured and appropriately marked. Backs for the Future provides a starting point to get people thinking aboutmanual handling problems. Unfortunately, the construction industry cannot boasta good record on providing OH support to its workforce, but where there are OHprofessionals working in the industry, the guidance presents them with anopportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to an industry where help isbadly needed to solve manual handling problems. OH contribution OH nurses should be able to help all the key players in construction understandtheir own and others’ roles and responsibilities in tackling the risks throughbetter planning, control and management and to illustrate the benefits thatthis will bring. Employers are likely to need help and encouragement from OH professionals tomake progress on this issue. The challenge to the industry is to increase itstake up of OH support to ensure health risks are properly identified andaddressed. OH professionals can and should make a valuable contribution toreducing the unacceptable toll of manual handling injuries. Lorraine Shepherd is an occupational health inspector with the Health andSafety Executive and holds the health and welfare portfolio for theConstruction Sector References 1 Health and Safety Statistics (1998/99) HSE Books ISBN 0 7176 1716 5 2 Jones JR, Hodgson JT, Clegg TA Self-reported Work-related Illness in 1995HSE Books (1998) ISBN 0 7176 1509 X 3 Backs for the Future – Safe Manual Handling in Construction HSG149 HSEBooks (2000) ISBN 0 7176 1122 1 Back pain: legislative backgroundManual handling has been a high-profile issue for the Government and the HSEfor many years. Repeated efforts to secure agreement on a regulatory frameworkled to the adoption of the Manual Handling of Loads directive, and in turn ledon to the introduction of the manual handling regulations in January 1993.Public HealthThe Government’s new public health priorities recognise the importance ofthe workplace as a target for improving the nation’s health. A first theme forthe Workplace Initiative is workplace-based action on back pain, encouraging”joined-up working” between stakeholders. The Back in Work programmelaunched in May 1999 is designed to raise awareness of the costs of back painand the need to tackle the problem in a holistic and integrated way. It aims todo this by funding a number of pilot projects to identify good practice inrelation to one or more of the four main elements in the development of chronicback pain: prevention; access to assessment and treatment; rehabilitation; andmanaged return to work. Back in Work will provide construction with importantlessons on how to join with others locally to integrate approaches on back paininto effective occupational health management systems.Current initiativesPhase IV of the HSE’s Good Health is Good Business campaign was launched inOctober 1999. Manual handling figures highly in the campaign’s efforts toensure compliance with the law with the use of enforcement where appropriate.The construction industry’s Working Well Together campaign, which waslaunched in May last year, aims to raise health and safety standards by gainingcommitment to improved communication, co-operation and competence. Some of theWorking Well Together action plans developed by those signed up to the campaignhave addressed the need to complement risk control measure by better manualhandling training.Tips on tackling manual handling – Forming ceilings with sheet materials can involve two workers working ontower scaffolds trying to support the sheet material in place – usually withthe head – while fixing it into position. Use of a panel lifter allows a singleworker to lift, position and support the sheet and then fix it. Manual handlingis virtually eliminated.– Use of vacuum or hydraulic systems to place kerbstones, slabs or blocksremoves nearly all manual handling from the task. These systems can be suppliedas adapters connecting to existing plant, such as earth-moving machinery, whichmay already be on site. Use of paving slab lifting devices also reduces risksfrom bending and lifting.– Sheet materials can be transported using panel trolleys. For manualhandling of other large items, a variety of devices are available includingmagnetic grips, suction grips, plate carriers and handling slings.– Ladder hoists are available to hire or buy. A wide variety of materialscan be transported on a ladder hoist.– Building blocks with hollows into which the hand or thumb can be insertedallow the block to be gripped more easily. This can help to reduce strain onthe lower back. Backs for the Future – Safe manual handling in construction3 Comments are closed. 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