- Intro

- Deaths on Site - Predictable but not Prevented

- Building Ill health, invisible and ignored

- Hazardous substances

- Prevention of injuries and ill health is a development issue

- Accidents, or Corporate crimes?

- The myth of the careless worker

- And what about the careless boss?

- PPE – lip service to prevention

- Prevention strategies – a tripartite approach

- The role of Governments

- The role of employers organisations in promoting prevention

- Clients and Contractors Associations

- The Role of Workers Organisations

- Global Campaigns are an important tool for the BWI Programme

- The right to refuse dangerous work

- Training

- Trade Union Safety representatives

- Regional Safety Representatives (RSRs)

- ILO Tripartite Meeting on the Construction Industry

- Conclusions





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, working conditions.

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 invisible.

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 generally poor.

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.

Deaths 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 measures.

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:

Scaffolding falls

• 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 or unsuitable

• it has no guard rails or has guarding that creates a false sense of security,

• has no proper access, so workers are obliged to perform acrobatics

• has only single, or insufficient, boards and is full of traps, resulting in more balancing acts for the workers

• 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 sophisticated equipment.

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 objects

• 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 injudiciously altered

• 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 to excavations.

• Machinery crushing or trapping workers, resulting in fatal injuries.


• Cable strikes

• contact with or arcing from overhead cables

Building 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 vicious circle.

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 for good.

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 and improvised.

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

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 hazards.

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 issue.

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 families.
.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 an accident.

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 safe.

• Statistics with a view to developing a coherent national prevention policy

• Implementation of ILO Convention 94 on procurement in Public Contracts

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 standards.

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 nationally

• 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 skills.

• All workers have a demonstrable skill level incorporating OHS.

• All contractors respect labour standards

• Demonstrated commitment to OHS through policy, management and compliance

• 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 data.

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 work

• 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 and safety

• 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 working conditions.

• 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 work.

• 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 (1988).

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 prevention are:

• 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
• and
• 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.

Collective Bargaining

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 or dismissal.


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 laws.

• 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