The big picture: Every year, sickness absence due to occupational diseases excluding musculoskeletal and mental health issues costs the UK at least £1.6 billion. This does not include today’s costs of work-related cancers and lung disease caused by past workplace exposures. The full cost is considerably more. Occupational disease can be prevented through good occupational hygiene. And less working time lost to ill-health offers obvious cost benefits to the whole of “UK plc”.
The savings extend further down the scale to individual organisations, through shorter contract times, more efficient working processes and systems, fewer administrative issues and sometimes lower direct costs. The cost of sickness absence is not always as obvious as lost time and sick pay. It potentially means extra wages, overtime working, temporary labour, recruitment costs, and lower production; it can also mean medical costs, legal costs, and fines if the employer is at fault.
In the construction industry, currently only 46% of workers remain in the industry until the age of 60, which compares unfavourably with other industries. The construction process today still damages workers and their family life, yet most of this ill-health is preventable; a change now will lead to a far higher percentage of workers experiencing long and productive working lives over the next 20 years and beyond. Notwithstanding the moral obligation of a company to protect the health of its workers, keeping them fit to do their job through to retirement age would remove the financial burden of recruiting and training new entrants each year.
By implementing a planned occupational hygiene programme, and focussing on effective exposure control prior to starting a project, you can utilise integrated ill-health prevention measures that will have a positive short and long term impact on your budget and on your workforce.
Effective does not have to mean expensive. Early input of occupational hygienists in design and planning can completely eliminate some health hazards and minimise others, through material substitution and process adaptations. For example, push-fit pipe fittings avoid the need for soldering; rosin-free solder, prefabricated concrete, pre-cut tiles, silica-free materials and plastic instead of concrete kerb stones can all be planned in and procured. The list of potential substitutions is long and ever-growing, and many substitutions can provide a like-for-like saving even before hidden costs are factored in.
Such changes can have very large pay-offs because the change can have impacts that create efficiencies throughout the business processes and product life cycle, reducing costs right away, as well as in the longer term. Hazard elimination can avoid the need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) that is often very expensive as well as usually the least effective way to protect people. Containment projects can result in decreased exposures and improved employee health and significant savings in resource, waste disposal costs and improved environmental controls where the benefits outweigh the costs.