Although the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) has suspended routine inspections of construction sites due to Covid-19, it has said that any intervention from concerns or complaints and subsequent action will be taken in accordance with its established enforcement policy.
Now that residential and commercial building sites have reopened across the UK, albeit with strict protocols in place as regards social distancing, there is a major challenge for construction companies to manage the financial viability of projects, whilst maintaining safety, where productivity is reduced. Some of the biggest names in construction have seen their balance sheets battered as a result of the pandemic, so investors will be looking to 2021for a swift reversal in fortunes.
Clearly therefore, site workers will be under considerable pressure to make up for lost time, so ensuring their safety has never been more important. According to HSE statistics, 1.2 million working days are already lost each year in the construction sector due to ill health with 60% of those involving Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). Poor manual handling of building materials and equipment is responsible for the most common injuries to the back and upper limbs, which result in an injury lasting over 7 days.
Manual handling protection
All construction related companies, from major PLCs to small sub-contractors to builders’ merchants, have a responsibility to assess and manage the risks posed to their employees from manual handling, as covered by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR)1992. Failure to comply leaves a business and its directors at risk of prosecution from the HSE, not to mention the potential fall-out from financial penalties and reputational damage.
In support of the UK construction industry, Stanley is at the forefront of developing materials handling solutions, including market-leading powered stair climbers, which enable a single operator to manoeuvre loads in excess of 500kgs. In situations where social distancing needs to be maintained and space is at a premium, particularly on residential builds or in warehouses, this type of solution provides a compelling proposition.
In addition to providing a range of lightweight mechanical units, Stanley is also the exclusive distributor of a small, wearable device (clipped to the back of a shirt) which employs AI (Artificial Intelligence) to measure physical movement, frequency and forces on the body. Linked to an app on the user’s smartphone, data collected helps employees to look after their bodies with help from a series of tutorials on safe handling.
Travis Perkins successful trial
Innovations like these, which identify hazardous actions through AI without any inconvenience to the user, have shown to deliver positive results to individuals and organisations alike. In 2018, the UK’s largest distributor of building materials, Travis Perkins, trialled the Soterspine technology with 120 employees over 10 weeks, as part of its commitment to reducing musculoskeletal injury risks and costs. The trial achieved a 40% reduction in high risk movements, which encouraged Travis Perkins to roll-out the system across its business divisions.
Mental health disorders on the rise
It is not only the physical wellbeing of the construction sector that Stanley is concerned about, however. From a mental health perspective, there is still a misconceived notion that working longer hours boosts productivity. According to a report by the Lancet Commission, more than 15 million days were lost to absence arising from anxiety, stress and depression across all sectors in 2018, including construction. The report stated that mental health disorders are on the rise and it is anticipated that the fall-out from Covid-19 will exacerbate this.
The Stevenson/Farmer review published in 2017 entitled ‘Thriving at Work’ claimed that workplace mental health issues costs UK employers a staggering £42 billion per year and estimates that 15 per cent of workers have an existing mental health condition.
Stanley is a provider of technology that can help tackle this issue. Designed with carefully researched algorithms, the use of online mental health diagnostic tools, such as its MindCheck solution, have shown to be effective in quickly identifying vulnerable team members, so they can be supported appropriately.
Improving overall workplace wellbeing requires a holistic, consultative approach, which is managed both discreetly and empathetically. For a workplace to be a rewarding and happy place, it is up to employers to take a proactive stance. Above all, an individual’s happiness, productivity, performance and retention are all linked to their physical and mental health, so in looking after people properly, this should be considered an investment, not a cost. In Stanley’s 70-year experience, reducing the risk of injury helps to create a culture of safety and productivity, which adds significant value to a business.