- Deaths on Site
- Predictable but not Prevented
Ill health, invisible and ignored
of injuries and ill health is a development issue
or Corporate crimes?
myth of the careless worker
- And what
about the careless boss?
- PPE – lip service
strategies – a tripartite approach
- The role of
- The role
of employers organisations in promoting prevention
- Clients and Contractors
Role of Workers Organisations
Campaigns are an important tool for the BWI Programme
- The right
to refuse dangerous work
- Trade Union
Safety Representatives (RSRs)
- ILO Tripartite
Meeting on the Construction Industry
Preventing injuries and ill health in construction
You might think that the active, outdoor life in the construction
sector would keep you fit and healthy. Quite the reverse is true
and the construction industry has a deservedly notorious reputation
as being dirty, difficult and dangerous.
A long standing and conservative estimate from the ILO reckons
that 55, 000 people suffer fatal injuries on building sites every
year. The BWI estimates that twice as many workers are killed
on site, that means that one person is killed in a site accident
every five minutes. Construction accounts for about 30% of all fatal
injuries at work.. Many hundreds of thousands more people suffer
serious injuries and ill health because of bad, and often illegal,
It’s recognised that the published statistics are unreliable,
and that they grossly underestimate the number of accidents. We
can only guess at the true figures by extrapolating from statistics
in those countries which do have reasonably complete and accurate
systems of reporting and recording. In many countries, the recorded
figures represent less than 20% of injuries. This is because: national
administrations do not have the capacity to gather data and present
meaningful statistics; employers fail to comply with their obligations
to report; workers are not covered by health and social security
systems; and in many countries only those injuries which are actually
compensated are recorded and reflected in published data
Reporting and recording of work related ill health is practically
non existent , particularly in developing countries. Even in industrialised
countries with sophisticated systems for recognition of occupational
diseases, the real impact of building work on health is largely
The fragmentation of the industry and the widespread use of flexible
employment practices seriously undermine trade union capacity to
organise in the sector. Downsizing, outsourcing, the use of labour-only
sub contracting and the so called self employed has a negative impact
on the management of health and safety. Informal work costs lives.
Responsibilities for planning and coordination of health and safety
are often unclear, and compliance with health and safety law is
Informal contractual conditions in the sector make it difficult
for workers to exercise their rights, and to push for more progressive
and effective prevention initiatives based on workers participation,
collective bargaining and training on skills and health and safety.
The consequence of poor management standards in the sector is the
deterioration of working and living conditions and an alarmingly
high incidence of injuries.
To make matters worse, many governments do not have a coherent
legislative and policy framework for prevention. Self regulation
in construction is increasingly widespread, and the relevant administrations
frequently have a permissive, passive attitude towards employers
who ignore health and safety laws, even when this leads to the death
of a worker.
on Site - Predictable but not prevented
The real tragedy behind the statistics is that deaths are
preventable. Most people are killed whilst carrying out perfectly
routine work, where the hazards are well known. Some of the
principal causes of fatal injuries in construction are described
below. Although this is not an exhaustive list, these are
all priority hazards for prevention. Deaths from these causes
can and should be avoided by the use of collective prevention
Any of the circumstances described below can be a recipe
for disaster. However, the lack of collective prevention measures
is particularly dangerous when combined with work organisation
factors. That is the management failures which characterise
the industry: spectacularly poor housekeeping; chaotic working
conditions; lack of planning and coordination; lack of training
and supervision, and the intense productivity and time pressure.
The number one construction killer in any country is falling
from heights, and this is principally due to the lack of proper
edge protection in a variety of construction tasks:
• Inadequate, improvised scaffolding with no proper
access or no guard rails to prevent falls. Often scaffolding
is erected by unqualified operatives, and thereafter the
lives of everyone who works from the scaffold are endangered.
Scaffolding is often improvised using inappropriate materials.
Common, fundamental scaffolding problems are:
• the base is not stable,
• materials used to construct the scaffold are defective
• it has no guard rails or has guarding that creates
a false sense of security,
• has no proper access, so workers are obliged to
• has only single, or insufficient, boards and is
full of traps, resulting in more balancing acts for the
• it is not properly tied in to the building.
The overloading of scaffolding for storage of materials is
often the straw that breaks the camel’s back and leads
to the collapse of the scaffold. All of these factors can
and do kill. It seems almost ridiculous to mention the absence
of toe boards, netting, fall arrest systems and other more
Other causes of falls
• Unprotected openings, stairwells and shafts inside
buildings , (for lifts, heating, air conditioning, ventilation)
• No edge protection in roof work to prevent falls,
or falling through fragile roofs (particularly asbestos
cement roofs) due to lack of crawling boards.
• Demolition work
• Inappropriate use of ladders
• Inappropriate use of hoists
Fatal Crush injuries and being struck by falling
• Excavations which are not shored up (or at least
sloped) may be unstable and collapse, particularly after
rainfall, crushing, burying and asphyxiating the workers
trapped below the heavy soil.
• Vehicles operating too close to the edge, where
there are no stop blocks, may also cause a cave in.
• Walls collapse when excavations undermine them.
• Buildings collapse when supporting structures are
• Falling objects, materials or tools can strike and
kill workers. Hard hats can save lives or reduce injuries
in many circumstances. The causes are lack of toe boards
on scaffolding, lack of tool belts for workers, bad storage
and stacking, and poor housekeeping.
• Improper use of hoists and cranes.
• Being struck or crushed by vehicles, due to poor
organisation and signalling.
• Overturned dumper trucks, due to overloading, or
where gradients are too steep, or approaching too close
• Machinery crushing or trapping workers, resulting
in fatal injuries.
• Cable strikes
• contact with or arcing from overhead cables
Ill health, invisible and ignored
Workers in the building trades are exposed to a wide range
of hazardous substances and physical hazards. In many countries,
the resulting health problems are not recognised as being
work related, and are not reported, recorded or compensated.
This social invisibility, this censorship of the true damage
to workers health, means that there is no national policy
to prevent occupational ill health in the sector. It is a
Yet, as with accidents, the causes of ill health are well
know and can be prevented or controlled. Improvements can
be made by substitution of hazardous materials for safer ones;
by the introduction of safe working methods; by the use of
good PPE; through information, training and workers participation.
Access to Occupational Health Services and health surveillance
is extremely scare in developing countries. In the informal
economy, building workers are excluded from social security
and health schemes.
Trade unions are working to promote recognition and compensation
of occupational ill health. Below, some of the most common
health hazards are discussed.
Deafness Exposure to hazardous noise levels
is so widespread as to be routine, and occupational deafness
is very common among building workers. Here, noise reduction
methods can be used, for example on compressors, but PPE and
training is essential to prevent hearing loss.
Vibration syndromes Hand arm vibration can
cause damage to blood vessels and nerves that leads to lack
of sensitivity in the fingers called Raynauds Syndrome. This
condition is particularly due to the use of pneumatic tools.
Whole body vibration caused by operating heavy machinery and
vehicles, and can cause damage to the spine.
Back injuries Caused by manual handling
of heavy loads, sometimes over long distances. For example
bricks, cement blocks a and cement bags weighing 50 kilos.
Confined spaces, awkward postures, heavy task and productivity
demands, and long hours. Lower back injuries, sciatica, hernias
and slipped discs can put people out of the labour market
Other Musculo skeletal disorders, injuries to muscles,
nerves, tendons and joints caused by physically demanding
work. Risk factors include: uncomfortable postures, forceful
and repetitive movements, awkward tools and sustained effort.
In many developing countries work is really labour intensive,
there is little mechanisation and tools are rudimentary, recycled
Typical injuries include:
• Bursitis, from kneeling, for example floor laying.
• Tenosinovitis is the inflammation of the tendon
sheaths due to overuse and repetitive and forceful movements.
(eg plasterers, painters, carpenters)
• Tendonitis, inflammation of the tendons, especially
in the shoulder, is common. Working with the arms reaching
above shoulder level is a typical cause of this problem.
(eg plasterers, carpenters, painters). Neck problems are
also widespread in these occupations.
• Epicondilitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow,
caused by the impact absorbed when making repeated blows.
Arguably, carpenters elbow, or stonemasons elbow might be
a more appropriate name for this condition.
Hazardous substances also have a serious impact on building
workers health. These may come in the form of liquids, gases,
vapours, fumes or dusts. They are contained in a variety of
commonly used products and materials in construction. The
main exposure route is through inhaling them, but substances
such as solvents can also be absorbed through the skin. There
may even be some additional exposure from ingestion due to
poor hygiene and welfare facilities on site.
Very often, workers are not aware of what chemicals are contained
in the products they use, and are not told about the health
hazards and how to avoid them. Renal, hepatic, cardio-vascular
problems and central nervous system disorders can result from
exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides and solvents.
Respiratory illness, bronchitis, asthma, fibrosis and cancer
may also be caused by exposure to certain materials on site.
Commonly used hazardous substances are:
Vapours and fumes
Solvents of many different kinds are
used in paints, varnishes, lacquers or adhesives, sometimes
several are used in a single product. They can cause central
nervous system damage and can harm the skin, liver , kidneys
and cardio vascular system and some increase the likelihood
of cancer. Painters, for example, have a higher risk of
lung cancer. In recent years in the Scandinavian countries
‘painters syndrome’ has been recognised as an
occupational disease. This refers to brain damage caused
by solvents affecting the central nervous system. Solvents
can also cause reproductive problems. They can reduce fertility,
they can cause congenital birth defects, and they can readily
cross the placenta and affect the health of the foetus causing
malformations or miscarriage.
Isocyanates such as TDI and MDI. Used
in two pack polyurethane paints and varnishes, bonding agents
and resins, paints. These can cause athsma, dermatitis and,
in the long term, are associated with cancer and reproductive
Pesticides, such as insecticides or fungicides.
Pesticides are poisons. They are used in timber treatments
to protect them from insect infestation or from the elements.
Commonly used and dangerous ones are: Lindane, TBTO (tri-
butyl tin oxide), PCP (penta-chloro phenol), or CCA compounds
(copper, chrome, arsenic). Chemical treatments for damp
courses and fire retardants can also be hazardous. Pesticides
can also present serious reproductive hazards.
Welding fumes, welding can generate a
cocktail of metal fumes of all kinds, depending on what
is being welded - painted metals, brass, copper, steel,
coated rods, alloys, and so on. Fumes (such as chromium
oxide, zinc oxide, or lead to give a few examples) can cause
serious health problems in the long term. The respiratory
system is affected and, as chemicals are absorbed, they
can slowly affect the brain and internal organs.
All dust is bad for your health. There are higher death rates
from respiratory disease, lung and stomach cancers in dusty
trades. Dust affects all sites and all trades, but is especially
problematic in plastering, demolition, excavations, tunnelling
and in certain tasks, such as cutting concrete blocks. Low
cost solutions are to get materials pre-cut off site where
exhaust ventilation can be used, and to dampen work and isolate
dusty work. Good hygiene facilities for washing and changing
and proper protective clothing are needed for hazardous jobs,
and this is seldom the case in developing countries.
Ideally, exhaust ventilated tools, and tools fitted with
a water supply for dust suppression should be used. Respiratory
Protective Equipment needs to be selected carefully as different
types give widely varying standards of protection. Unfortunately,
what is normally given out as PPE is a “dust mask”
made of paper or cloth, rather than filtering respirator masks.
Cement dust. can cause serious respiratory
problems over time, such as pneumoconiosis (lung scarring).
Cutting concrete blocks can generate huge clouds of silica
-containing dust. Plasterers have a high rate of lung cancers
because of the dust they inhale. Cement contains lots of
chemicals, some of which cause skin problems: lime (calcium
oxide), which can cause burns from wet concrete and mortars.
These burns can be severe enough to need skin grafts.
Chromates, which cause dermatitis from
contact with cement in both wet and dry states. This is
a very widespread problem. Irritant, or contact, dermatitis
is direct damage caused by contact with the skin. Allergic
dermatitis is caused by sensitivity to the chromate impurities
in cement and can be severe. Once a person is sensitised
it is almost impossible to get rid of the allergic reaction.
Silica Breathing in silica can cause silicosis.
This means irreversible scarring of the lungs, causing shortness
of breath and premature death. Jobs such as stone masonry;
sand blasting for cleaning and façade renovation;
concrete cutting or drilling; tunnelling and many demolition
jobs. Using power tools to cut stone will lead to high exposures.
Wood dust causes respiratory system problems
, irritation and allergies, asthma, rhinitis. Some types
of wood dust and oils can cause nasal cancer, particularly
certain hard woods. Sawdust needs to be controlled.
Medium Density Fibre boards, chip board and plywood, contain
glues and urea formaldehyde, and dust from working these
materials can cause irritation.
Asbestos should be banned. Safe substitutes
exist for all its applications and there is no justification
whatsoever for its continued use. Asbestos causes fatal
diseases - asbestosis, mesothelioma and cancer of the lung
and digestive system. The use of asbestos in building and
insulation materials has been widespread for many years.
Millions of buildings all over the world contain asbestos,
and workers carrying out maintenance, repairs, renovation
or demolition work are often exposed without even being
aware of it.
Manufactured Mineral Fibres. Certain types
of MMFs which are used as substitutes for asbestos mimic
it’s properties so closely that they can also cause
fibrosis and lung cancer.
Welfare and biological hazards.
Living and working conditions of building workers are poor
in developing countries. Many workers live in slums and barely
make enough money to feed themselves and their families, so
nutrition is poor. Often there is no access to clean drinking
water. On many sites, the accommodation offered in the bunk
houses is dirty, overcrowded and infested with rats.
Tuberculosis, cholera and parasistic diseases
from contaminated water can occur.
Dengue and malaria, caused
by mosquito bites can also be a health hazard. Where pools
of water are allowed to accumulate, they make perfect breeding
grounds for mosquitoes. Communities around construction
sites may also be affected
HIV AIDS. Migration, including rural -urban
migration, to seek work in large construction projects means
being away from home and family for long periods. This places
construction workers at risk.
Work organisation and Stress
Caused by the hazardous and constantly changing working environment.
Noise, dirt, dust, chemicals, work at heights, confined spaces,
heavy work, and lack of information and training all contribute.
Particularly acute is the fear of accidents, most notably
fear of falling. Bullying and pressure is commonplace, and
generally the worker, particularly labourers, will have little
or no control over how the work is to be done.
Prevention of injuries and ill health is a development
The overwhelming majority of accidents in construction are foreseeable
and preventable. However, there is rarely a coherent prevention
system in place. The micro and macro economic costs are huge. Moreover,
the social benefits to be gained from prevention include improved
morale, better image for the industry and avoidance of pain and
suffering for workers and their families. A conservative and generally
accepted ILO estimate of the cost of all occupational injuries and
ill health at macro economic level is at least 4% of the GDP.
At micro economic level there are also savings to be made in down
time, absenteeism, insurance and damages. Furthermore, there are
socio-economic benefits to be gained from prevention in terms of
improvements in productivity, quality, and the image of the company,
and not least in avoiding pain and suffering of victims and their
.In Europe the cost of construction accidents is estimated at around
3% volume of project. The cost of strict compliance with European
legislation on OHS is around 1. 5% volume of the project
However there are costs associated with prevention. Therefore OHS
and Welfare costs should be taken out of competition, and considered
as prime costs. OHS requirements should be included as mandatory
items in procurement policy, contracts and competitive tendering.
Failure to comply with OHS requirements should mean exclusion from
competing for tenders.
Accidents, or Corporate crimes?
Those countries which examine the circumstances of fatal injuries
conclude that they should never have happened. According to the
UK enforcement agency, the Health and Safety Executive, in their
report Blackspot Construction, at least 70% of the deaths analysed
should have been prevented by management. In fact, most deaths on
site are not genuinely accidents at all, but failure to manage risks,
or straightforward negligence on the part of the employer. They
are perfectly foreseeable and preventable, there is ample technical
guidance, and there is a legal duty to prevent them.
The myth of the careless worker
Negligent employers perpetuate the myth of the careless worker
because this allows them the very convenient alibi of blaming the
victims themselves. To this end, building workers are routinely
portrayed as stupid, lazy, drunken, macho and as having no regard
for health and safety. The myth of the careless worker really is
a case of adding insult to injury.
It is the employer who has the legal obligation to prevent injuries
and ill health and to provide safe systems of work. It is the employer
who has the authority, who makes the plans and decisions, gives
the orders, provides the materials, and controls the work methods
and organisation. It is the employer who makes the profits. But
it seems it’s always the worker’s fault when there’s
Unfortunately, when workers do express their concern regarding
health and safety, they may run the risk of victimisation or losing
their job. It is true that some workers will dismiss the importance
of even obvious risks. This denial of the existence of risks is
natural if there is no choice in the matter. It gives the sensation
of dominating the situation.
And what about the careless boss?
Negligent employers create unfair competition and give the industry
a bad name. They know that there is a risk but they choose to go
ahead and take that risk - or rather they gamble with other peoples
lives. Workers, employers and governments have a common interest
in ensuring that safety standards are met, and in imposing strict
sanctions on negligent behaviour, including custodial sentences.
PPE – lip service to prevention
In the construction industry there is an over emphasis on the use
of Personal Protective Equipment, to the extent that it’s
abused by some employers and detracts from genuine prevention measures.
Of course good PPE is essential, workers need to have it. The use
of proper PPE prevents untold cases of injuries and ill health,
some potentially fatal. However, it’s a complementary measure
to be used along with collective protection - not as an alternative
to it. PPE should be used when it’s not possible to properly
control the risk by other means. However PPE is cheap, and some
employers believe that if workers are wearing their hard hats then
their responsibility is met. This is what we might call the Pontius
Pilate style of health and safety.
Prevention strategies – a tripartite approach
There is a clear link between recent changes in industrial structure
and employment relationships, and deteriorating conditions of occupational
safety and health. The high turnover of labour increases the risk
of accidents, while the prevalence of subcontracting
means that responsibility for health and safety is diffused, hampering
compliance with regulations.
The role of Governments
Governments have an important role to play as legislators and regulators,
but also as clients who can lever changes through the procurement
process. Governments need to have a coherent legislative and policy
framework on Occupational health and Safety in the sector.
This should be developed with the social partners through tripartite
committees on OHS, Construction Industry Development Boards and
Training Boards. The National Policy must include a system for promotion
and enforcement of the regulations.
Governments should continue to develop legislation, regulations
and guidelines for implementation, and develop clear policies to
cover contract workers and the so called self employed. They should
also make more use of procurement policies to promote good health
and safety and labour standards.
Under –resourcing of the competent authorities, combined
with a laissez faire policy of self regulation in the industry can
result in a passive and permissive attitude on the part of governments
towards even serious breaches of the legislation .
Responsible employers need assistance in the form of information,
training and guidance on hazards and their prevention. This guidance
should focus on the development and practical application of Company
Health and Safety Policies. A combination of promotion of good practice
and sanctions on negligent employers is called for.
Legislation, policy and tripartite structures
• Establish Tripartite National Legislative and Policy
agenda on OHS and Welfare
• Sector- specific tripartite bodies, such as: Advisory
Committees, National Interest Groups, Construction Industry Development
Boards and Training Board
• Ratification, transposition and practical implementation
nationally of relevant ILO Conventions, Recommendations, Codes
of Practice and Guidelines.
• Convention 167 and Recommendation 175 on Safety and Health
in Construction, 1988. Code of Practice on Safety and Health in
Construction 1991. Abundant Guidance on making construction work
• Statistics with a view to developing a coherent national
• Implementation of ILO Convention 94 on procurement in
Promotion activities: guidelines, information,
training and qualifications, technical assistance, inspections.
Targeted campaigns on specific hazards and prevention measures.
For example scaffolding or cement hazards.
Enforcement and real deterrents: the fear factor:
costs of fines and compensation, social stigma and loss of license
or liberty for negligent employers.
Governments , the World Bank and Development Banks A
significant proportion of infrastructure funding in developing countries
is provided by the national and international publicly controlled
institutions. National and international development agencies and
international institutions such as the World Bank are in a good
position to influence labour standards and working conditions. Their
Procurement Policies and conditions of tender should set exemplary
The role of employers organisations in promoting prevention
• A basic commitment should be given to adhere to labour
standards and to insist that these are respected by all sub contractors
and suppliers. These labour standards are based on ILO Conventions,
including such fundamental human rights as Freedom of Association,
the Right to Organise, and the Right to Collective Bargaining
• Institutional participation on legislation and policy
• Promotion of compliance and good practice in the industry
• Introduction of a Training Levy to improve capacity of
the workforce on skills and health and safety. Several Construction
Industry Training Boards have introduced mandatory training on
health and safety. There are many positive examples of skills
certification and Recognition of Prior Learning, which boost quality
and productivity as well as reducing injuries and ill health.
• Compulsory employers liability insurance to cover all
workers on site
Employers need Company Health and Safety Policies
and systems for risk management which include workers’ participation
as an essential element. Downsizing and outsourcing have created
a construction industry dominated by precarious, informal contractual
conditions, by subcontracting and by bogus self -employment. This
has a direct and negative impact on health and safety: chaotic working
conditions; lack of OHS management systems and responsibilities;
lack of co-ordination, investment and training; and very poor compliance
with legislation on health and safety.
The principal objectives of the Safety Policy are to ensure compliance
with legislative requirements, and to eliminate or control hazards
to health and safety so as to avoid injuries and ill health. An
effective vehicle for the practical implementation of the safety
Policy is a joint management-trade union Health and Safety Committee.
Clients and Contractors Associations
• should ensure that Safety, Health and Welfare provisions
are included as mandatory components in tender documents to take
them out of competition. All contractors should consider health,
safety and welfare items in their cost estimates. Including:
• Sanitation, water, food and shelter, as well as transport.
• First aid and health services.
• Planning, co-ordination and operation of health and safety
management system including training and workers participation
• Collective and individual measures to protect workers
safety and health.
• Waste management
Contractors Associations and clients should ensure that
• All management and supervisory staff on their sites have
demonstrable competence in OHS and in management and supervisory
• All workers have a demonstrable skill level incorporating
• All contractors respect labour standards
• Demonstrated commitment to OHS through policy, management
• Ensure structures and resources to implement policy and
comply with law
• Ensure communication and co-ordination between contractors
and the participation of workers, including induction training
OHS targets should be audited against each contractor on site;
Evaluation of tenders
Selection criteria for tenders should include previous performance
on OHS and current approach to OHS. This should include not just
the nuber of accidents, but: the volume and type of past output;
OHS policy, budget, resources; the system and structure for managing
health and safety; reporting system including near misses and statistics
on accident performance; worker training, participation and consultation.
Conditions for tenders
All bids should present a detailed health and safety Plan before
work starts. Project specific health and safety proposals should
be required for addressing points in the tender. This should include
a requirement to create and maintain a Health and Safety File, which
includes the health and safety policy, risk assessments and performance
The Role of Workers Organisations
Strong Unions = Safe Jobs
Low trade union density is a key factor in explaining the poor safety
standards in the construction industry. The BWI Global Programme
on Safety Health and Environment has the slogan Strong Unions for
Safe Jobs. Funded by the Swedish LO TCO Council and promoted by
Swedish Building Workers Union Byggnads, the programme is servicing
affiliated trade unions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The aim
is to popularise health and safety as a recruitment and organising
tool, and to assist unions to improve their structure, policy and
organising strategy in this important area of trade union activity.
Encouraging results are being obtained by many of our affiliated
trade unions in the following areas:
• Trade Union Structures improved to mainstream Safety,
Health and Environment into the union’s activities
• Institutional participation, particularly tripartite
• Legislative and policy agenda developed and pursued,
negotiation of improved standards, and participation in training
on health and safety.
• Collective bargaining agreements that include health
• Recruitment and organising strategy, including increased
membership, promotion of Safety Representatives and establishment
of Safety Committees.
• Information and training on hazards and their prevention:
carrying out workplace inspections and health surveys, prioritising
hazards, and negotiating for improvements.
Global Campaigns are an important tool for the BWI Programme
The campaigns help the unions to build solidarity networks with
other unions, academics, health professionals, lawyers, families
and victims of accidents and ill health, and with communities. Campaigning
activities are positive for the unions’ image, and give them
a leadership role in building strong social pressure for improved
• 28th of April, International Worker’s Memorial
Day. Workplace, community and media activities are organised to
highlight the preventable nature of injuries and ill health at
• Banning asbestos and applying ILO Convention 162 on work
with in situ asbestos in buildings. C162 contains important rights
and prevention measures.
• ILO Convention 167 on Safety and Health in Construction
• C167 has so far been ratified by only
14 countries, although many countries have similar or better legislation
on the statute books. 167 covers the main health and safety problems
and prevention measures to be taken. Principal points for organising
• there should be cooperation between employers and workers
in taking appropriate measures to ensure that workplaces are safe
and without risk to health
• all parties to a construction contract have responsibilities,
including those who design and plan projects
• the principal contractor is responsible for coordinating
prevention measures -
• an inspection service and penalty measures
• workers have the right to remove themselves from imminent
and serious danger.
The right to refuse dangerous work
The right to refuse to carry out a dangerous task without fear
of victimisation is very far from being a reality for most workers.
Whilst there is low trade union density in the sector and informal
employment, unorganised workers regularly face a choice between
doing a dirty and dangerous job or having no job at all. This basic
human right is a test of democracy and dignity in the workplace.
Legislation varies from country to country. Collective Bargaining
Agreements should always include points on Safety, Health and Environment,
and should guarantee standards that go further than the existing
legislative minimum. should include Health and Safety in Collective
Bargaining Agreements, particularly with regard to the establishment
of joint management –trade union Health and Safety Committees;
workers’ participation in the prevention of injuries and ill
health; and for example:
• Recognition of trade unions for collective bargaining
and workers participation in prevention on site.
• Rights for Trade Union Health and Safety Representatives
to participate in prevention
• Time off for training, plus induction training, and toolbox
meetings during work time. Joint Health and Safety Committees
• Written Health and Safety Policies
• Health and Safety Management Systems that include workers
participation at all levels
• Systems for reporting and resolving hazards, including
the right for workers to refuse to carry out a task which poses
a serious risk for their health or safety, without fear of victimisation
Training is a cornerstone of the BWI support and development
work with affiliated unions. Flexible training materials have been
developed on health and safety, and are being used with trade union
leadership, education officers, women’s officers, trade union
organisers, workplace representatives and workers.
Trade Union Safety representatives
There is generally low trade union density in construction due
to informal contractual arrangements in the sector. However, all
workers have rights, and trained Trade Union Safety Representatives
make a positive contribution to the prevention of injuries and ill
health. A recent survey by the British Trade Union Congress indicates
that workplaces with Trade Union H&S reps have half the accident
rate of comparable workplaces without reps.
Trade Union Safety Reps are aware of the risks in the workplace,
and can work closely with workers and management to assist with
promoting a working environment where hazards are identified, removed
or properly controlled before problems occur.
Their legal or agreed functions typically include:
• Participation in the Health and Safety Committee
• Inspections, surveys, documentation, reports and recommendations
• promotion of safe systems of work
• investigation of accidents and ill health
• Information, training and communication with workers
on health hazards and the risks of accidents, and the prevention
measures to be taken, including basic induction training for new
workers on site.
• Representation of workers interests, including upholding
the right to refuse dangerous
work without victimisation
Regional Safety Representatives (RSRs)
Informal workers in construction are widely dispersed in small
companies. The use of casual and temporary labour, subcontracting
and the so-called self employed, creates an increasingly complex
working environment where unions
represent workers across multiple employers. Unions find it difficult
to identify, train and retain trade union safety representatives
given the mobile and temporary nature of the work in our industry.
Workers are often reluctant to take on a union position because
they fear that they are risking their jobs.
Imaginative structures need to be considered to ensure that workers
have similar rights to representation as in workplaces with a higher
level of union membership. Unions at branch or regional level should
be able to provide an appropriate union representative to support
all members of that union wherever and for whomever they work.
Regional Safety Representatives have been operating in the construction
sector in Sweden since 1949. The system was so successful that it
was extended to all sectors in Sweden in 1974. There are currently
around 1,450 roving reps in Sweden, operating in 152,000 workplaces.
The local union has the right to appoint RSRs for a specific geographical
area, or for those specific companies where there are members belonging
to the union. RSRs service those workplaces with no OHS Committees
(less than 50 workers), and they have reasonable rights of access
to workplaces, and defined functions similar to those of a regular
workplace Safety Representative. The BWI is actively promoting
the figure of the Regional Safety Representative.
ILO Tripartite Meeting on the Construction Industry
At the ILO Tripartite Meeting on the Construction Industry in
December 2001, the workers group brought up proposals on RSRs in
the meeting and as a resolution from the meeting. Unfortunately,
the employers group strongly opposed the idea and a consensus could
not be reached at that meeting.
However, the conclusions of the meeting were very positive on OHS,
and the employers clearly want to improve standards of prevention
in the industry. Some interesting points agreed are:
• The suggestion of agreeing national registers and licensing
systems for sub contractors.
• Promote mandatory basic induction training on health
and safety for everyone on site.
• Special attention to be paid to training of workers’
health and safety reps
• Strict sanctions for infringements of health and safety
• Public procurement procedures should ensure that subcontractors
comply with health and safety legislation.
Those who do not should be excluded from tender lists
Social Dialogue. There are many examples of tripartite structures
to promote social dialogue in the construction sector. These include
industry development boards and industry training boards as well
as national committees on health and safety in construction.
The emphasis has to be on
• Strong health and safety laws, properly enforced, including
workers’ right to refuse to carry out dangerous tasks without
fear of victimisation
• Recognition of trade unions for collective bargaining
and the participation of workers in prevention. Information and
training on hazards and prevention for everyone on site.
• Promotion of Health and Safety Management on site to
ensure day to day application of prevention measures