Health of electrical workers now in focus

Recent safety statistics from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) and the ECA show that the electrotechnical sector has made remarkable progress on reducing the rate of accidents.

In fact, the reportable accident rate for 2015 is now only 16% of what it was in 2001 – effectively meaning that, for every six accidents that occurred 15 years ago, nowadays there is just one.

But while we know a lot about our safety performance, one of the issues facing the sector is that there isn’t even a ‘go to’ definition of occupational health (OH). Ten occupational health specialists in a room will probably give you a dozen definitions.

So, to contribute to the debate, the ECA recently worked with partners, including the JIB, on a major survey to find out how the sector is currently faring on OH. Completed by nearly 400 respondents – mainly directors and managers – during March and April, the survey provided a unique insight into OH across our sector.

Survey respondents were given a ‘working definition’ of OH, specifically to: “eliminate or sufficiently control significant exposure to work-related physical or mental health and disease, and monitoring the effects on individuals as necessary”. This definition was widely backed by respondents (just 3% disagreed), and is therefore useful moving forward.

When asked about the biggest health hazards in the sector, there were few surprises – more than 9 in 10 firms cited asbestos, with nearly 8 in 10 highlighting silica, as a particular cause for concern in the electrical sector. Between them, asbestos and silica cause thousands of fatalities across construction. Other hazards frequently cited included noise, mental health and manual handling.

Overall, almost three-quarters of survey respondents said they already actively managed occupational health.

However, less than half said they engaged in occupational health surveillance, while just six in 10 said they incorporate managing mental health. The vast majority of firms (80%) did, however, recognise that worker mental health would become increasingly important.

At present, members of the JIB (which ECA members can join without paying the normal JIB subscription) have access to Constructing Better Health’s ‘Construction Health Action Toolkit’ (CHAT), an interactive system for managing occupational health, through the purchase of JIB Benefit Credits for their employees. In addition, the ECA’s e-RAMS software allows members to identify on-site health hazards, such as asbestos or manual handing, and then undertake a risk assessment to help control significant risks.

Moving forward, both the ECA and JIB will be undertaking evidence-based OH initiatives within the electrical and building services sector to put the ‘health’ into health and safety at work.

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