Occupational health and the woodworking industry

21 March 2018

Margaret Grahamslaw, Head of Occupational Health at B&CE, shares her thoughts

British industry has made great strides in addressing safety since the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but there’s still so much to be done in terms of improving health, particularly in construction and specialist trades.  Health should be taken as seriously as safety – with an ageing workforce and so many small and micro-businesses in sectors such as woodworking and joinery, it’s important to keep people well and in work longer.

Did you know? 13,000 deaths each year are linked to dust, chemicals and other hazards

There’s a lot of talk about occupational health and wellbeing these days, but what exactly are these?   Simply put, occupational health is the effect of your work on your health, and the effect of your health on your work. 

A well-known example of the effect of health on work is the case of the Glasgow bin man suffering a blackout on the job due to an unreported health condition, with tragic consequences.

Keep in mind that ‘wellbeing’ is a more general term referring to the promotion of general good health, including dietary advice, cholesterol checks and exercise advice.  It has no basis in law.

What about the effect of work on health?

UK law says that every employer must provide his or her employees with appropriate health surveillance if, despite controls, there is a residual risk to health.   This is governed by the hazards and risks that employees are exposed to on the job.   Examples of health surveillance include breathing tests, skin checks and hearing tests.  These types of tests give early warning signs that something isn’t right.   The tests are easily replicated, comparable and measurable, and based on the results, employers will know which workers may be developing a work-related health effect (such as signs of asthma or changes in hearing) and can put additional controls in place.

Did you know? 1.3 million workers in the UK are suffering from work-related ill health

Wood dust exposure is a key hazard in woodworking and joinery.  Being exposed to wood dust on the job over a long period of time can cause conditions such as asthma and cancer, particularly of the nose. Carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to develop asthma compared to other UK workers, but symptoms can take years to develop.  Noise is also an issue, as long exposure can result in permanent hearing loss, which cannot be improved with hearing aids.

B&CE are developing an occupational health scheme for the construction industry which will help address these issues.  To keep up to date with developments, please go to www.bandce.co.uk/occupational-health

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