HSE to inspect construction firms with focus on Covid-19 and respiratory risk

Out-Law News | 02 Oct 2020 | 8:40 am | 1 min. read

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to carry out a month-long inspection initiative looking at respiratory risks and occupational lung disease in the construction sector.

The inspection programme, which will start on 5 October, will also examine whether firms are protecting their workers from the risk of coronavirus and if workplaces are Covid-secure.

While the focus of the inspections will be on respiratory risk, inspectors will be able to take enforcement action if they identify other areas of concern, including whether workers are protected from Covid-19. The HSE identified “Covid-security” as a critical health risk, and said one of the reasons for the inspection programme was to align with the wider government agenda to get people back to workplaces safely and support economic recovery.

Health and safety law expert Sean Elson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "Inspections of this sort are not out of the ordinary for the sector.  This is continuing evidence of the drive in relation to occupational health and respiratory conditions in particular. What is interesting is that the HSE as the Covid regulator has flagged that they will be using this programme to look at how duty holders are managing the Covid-19 risk at a project level. The HSE will be keen to show that it is taking action in relation to the pandemic and playing its part in employers taking adequate measures."

The health-focused initiative is the fourth of its kind with a focus on what measures construction firm are using to protect workers from the likes of asbestos, silica and wood dust. At the same time, the HSE is launching a campaign aimed at influencing employer behaviour by encouraging builders to download free guidance and advice.

The HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Sarah Jardine, said around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are killed in construction accidents each year. According to the HSE, over 3,500 construction workers die every year from work-related cancer while thousands of others lose working days due to illness.

The inspections follow two construction-specific respiratory risk inspection initiatives last year. The HSE has been focusing on the issue for a number of years, with its first respiratory related campaign taking place in 2014.