Between 7th October and 1st November, the HSE is carrying out its latest construction inspection initiative. This will focus on the measures in place to protect workers from occupational lung disease caused by asbestos, silica, wood and other dusts when carrying out common construction tasks.

rradar H&S consultant takes a look at what’s involved.

Although safety is often the priority, it should be remembered that ill-health affects far more workers than those who are injured or killed by accidents at work. The effects of asbestos and dusts, particularly silica, can take a long time to manifest but there should be no doubt about the dangers in the construction sector and those who work in this sector need be aware of these dangers.

Asbestos and dusts – the dangers

The effects of exposure to asbestos, RCS (respirable crystalline silica) and other dust may take years to be detected and may result in:

  • Asthma
  • Asbestosis or Asbestos-related lung cancer (Mesothelioma)
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Pleural thickening
  • Silicosis

The aim of the inspection initiative is to make sure that businesses and workers involved with construction projects know the risks that dusts present, are able to plan their work to take these risks into account and implement the control measures to protect the workforce.

Be prepared

The HSE has indicated that where poor standards are found, enforcement action will be taken. If your project involves these occupational health risks, it’s important to ensure that you are familiar with the guidance and information available.

What to expect when the HSE inspector calls

The HSE inspectors are allowed access to sites at any reasonable times and if the Inspector identifies a breach of health and safety law, they have a range of enforcement powers available to them from verbal advice if it is something minor that could be easily rectified or any of the following:

  • Give advice in writing
  • Issue a ‘Notice of Contravention’ if a material breach of health and safety law has been identified. The cost of investigating this, including writing letters, is currently £154 per hour. This could be in addition to any other enforcement action taken.
  • Issue an Improvement Notice or a Prohibition Notice
  • Prosecute in more serious cases.

The HSE provide a free guide “What to expect when a HSE inspector calls”:

What can you do?

It’s important to bear in mind that although the focus of the inspection initiative is on asbestos and dusts, an inspector will not ignore any other obvious hazards or breaches of health and safety legislation. Preparing for a possible asbestos/dust inspection is also a prime opportunity to take a fresh look at the site and its compliance with health and safety regulations.

Consider how you would answer the following questions:

  • Are all the correct signs in place?
  • Is the perimeter secure?
  • Is there a signing in/out procedure before access is allowed on to the site?
  • Is the wearing of PPE enforced?
  • Is the area tidy with slip/trip hazards reduced to a minimum?
  • Are welfare facilities clean and functional with toilets, hot water etc, drying hands?
  • Are any overhead cables clearly identified with control measures in place?
  • Are vehicles and pedestrians safely separated?
  • Are mains-powered tools 110 volt and using a transformer or ideally battery powered?
  • Are all risk assessments relevant, accessible and up to date?
  • Are any construction phase plans in place and up to date?
  • Has the appropriate asbestos survey and assessment been carried out if required?
  • Has that information been passed to contractors and sub-contractors along with any restrictions?
  • Are all safe working at height controls measures in place?
  • If asbestos is on site, is it clearly marked?