November 8, 2022

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Easing the load? – HSE’s Work Right Construction campaign

Emma Evans and Anthony Grogan at Brabners LLP on an HSE’s initiative to combat the growing cases of construction workers suffering from musculoskeletal disorders.

As of October 2022, British construction sites have been targeted as part of the Government’s newest health inspection initiative, entitled Work Right Construction: Your Health, Your Future. The HSE have begun visiting sites in England, Scotland, and Wales from 3 October 2022 and will continue until November.

This HSE campaign targeting ‘Manual Handling’ comes following new research which shows that over 40,000 construction workers currently suffer from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which involve persistent injuries, aches, pains and discomfort in joints, muscles, and bones. The HSE have published useful resources, which can be found here.

Given that any failures to safeguard workers against risk and ill-health can result in long term absence, workforce / staffing challenges, employment grievances, increased occupational health resource and spend, civil claims or at worst, criminal enforcement action and sizeable fines, it is vital for organisations in the construction industry to be fully aware of their obligations.

The Law – Employer Obligations

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (the Regulations) define manual handling operations as “any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or by bodily force”. The Regulations set out what is expected of Employers involved in Manual Handling, including: –

  • To avoid hazardous manual handling operations, which may give rise to a risk of injury; or
  • To assess any unavoidable manual handling operations; and
  • To reduce the risk of injury.

The Regulations are qualified by ‘reasonably practicability’ meaning balancing the level of risk posed against the time, resource, and cost to take any measures needed to eliminate or control the risk. Generally, if a control measure is seen to be grossly disproportionate to the actual level of risk, it would not be reasonable. However, what is ‘reasonably practicable’ may depend upon each organisation’s specific position and circumstances.

Inspections – be prepared

In avoiding hazardous operations, duty holders and employers should ask: does the item really need to be moved, or can the activity be done safely where it already is by redesigning the task? Can products or materials be delivered directly to where they will be used? Elimination of risk is key, where possible.

Where handling is unavoidable, HSE Inspectors will look to see that workers’ health is consistently protected from the risks associated with moving / lifting of materials. They will check employers and employees:

  • Assess the risks of manual handling
  • Plan accordingly for these risks
  • Use the right control measures.

HSE almost certainly will want to see the Assess, Control and Review model being effectively utilised.

Therefore, key considerations for managing risk in this area, include:

  • Know your business and activities – from the task itself, the load, and the working environment. Also, think about the individual capacity of workers involved, and amount of lifting they are routinely required to carry out. Schedule 1 of the Regulations is, unlike other legislation, very prescriptive about what any manual handling risk assessments must consider to be suitable and sufficient.
  • Take adequate precautions – have effective risk management plans and measures day-to-day to prevent long term harm and exposure. This should also involve consulting with and engaging the workforce about how a task needs to be done before implementation.
  • Training and information – don’t just have a risk assessment, or set policies, procures or arrangements – ensure your workforce understand, know what is available and how workplace manual handling risks should be managed.
  • Invest appropriately into the correct equipment that your business needs to facilitate risk being controlled (engage specialist help, if needed, about what is going to be reasonably practicable and proportionate for your business); and
  • Monitor and review – ensure that risk assessments and arrangements are reviewed regularly, to ensure workers are working to the correct methods, and any control measures/equipment remain adequate and kept in in good working order.

Therefore, this is an important campaign, and pertinent time for duty holders to review compliance because the risks of manual handling are well-known. HSE previously declared Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) were the most common cause of over seven-day injuries. The Labour Force Survey also estimated MSDs accounts for around 54% of all work-related ill health.

Occupational health has for many years, been an area to attract increased focus to bring it up to speed, and level up against ‘safety’ performance, both generally and in construction. The HSE’s agenda (in line with its overall strategic aims), remains very committed on improving health, with manual handling and other areas such as silica, construction dust and mental health.

As a result, we may be set to see more enforcement activity, and it is reasonable, possibly expected, for organisations to be even more pro-active and for ‘health’ issues to be prioritised at a Boardroom or Senior Management level.

About the authors:

Anthony Grogan
Anthony is a Trainee Solicitor in the Regulatory Team at Brabners LLP, currently supporting on Health & Safety, Environmental, Firearms Licencing, and other Regulatory / Criminal matters. He has a keen interest in Public Inquiries and Coroner’s Inquests, and is currently set to qualify in 2024. 

Emma Evans
Emma is a Legal Director in the Regulatory Team at Brabners LLP, Member of IOSH, and Trustee of One Per Cent Safer – she is specialist lawyer and advisor in contentious and non-contentious health and safety law matters, across many high-hazard industries, including: construction, manufacturing, energy and housing.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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