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February 24, 2016

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Case study: occupational health at Laing O’Rourke

With about 100 workplaces in the UK, Laing O’Rourke is a major player in the construction sector. The mixture of construction, infrastructure workplaces, manufacturing sites and plant depots has a 5,000 strong workforce employed directly, alongside 3,500 staff.

Building a better occupational health management strategy

“Having such a big workforce allows us to retain good people for longer. It also allows us to communicate key health messages very visibly – and constantly reinforce them,” explains Silvana Martin, occupational health manager at Laing O’Rourke.

In 2014 Laing O’Rourke developed a new occupational health strategy, starting with a six-month review to assess what the business needed and to identify a clear way forward. The new strategy has a well-defined set of priorities to:

  • establish an effective health surveillance programme;
  • ensure the ‘Fit for task’ scheme is embedded across the business for workers in safety-critical roles;
  • review and refine existing occupational health risk management controls;
  • raise awareness of mental health in the workplace; and
  • encourage engagement across workplaces in health and wellbeing activities.

Establishing an effective ‘fit for task’ and health surveillance programme

Establishing the new ‘fit for task’ and health surveillance programme has been challenging, largely because of confusion around the difference between ‘fit for task’ medicals and health surveillance and who needs what.

Health surveillance is carried out for employees exposed to risks such as noise, vibration, dusts and other hazardous substances. The medicals are used to check whether exposure to these risks is having an impact on the health of our people.

‘Fit for task’ medicals are for people in safety-critical roles, these medicals are designed to check whether an individual’s health status could compromise their ability to carry out a task defined as ‘safety-critical’, for example mobile plant operators or drain layers.

This programme commenced in January 2015, to date approx 4,000 people have been through medicals and our target is to ensure all operation people will have had their medicals by June 2016. This will allow us to understand the whole health status of our employees.

Managing key on-site occupational health issues

Laing O’Rourke is working with a team of occupational hygienists to review and address the biggest health risks across the business – noise, vibration and dust. The hygienists take readings to monitor actual exposure levels, check to see whether controls are adequate and work with the site teams to implement appropriate action plans.

The team of hygienists also works with the on-site managers to look at the project plans to see what’s coming down the line, so that they can start assessing risks and preparing the right control programmes in the medium term. Having an in-depth focus on key risk areas has facilitated better occupational health risk control right across the company.

Working on wellbeing

Laing O’Rourke have partnered with MIND the mental Health Charity [http://www.mind.org.uk/] to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace. Construction has not historically had a culture of open discussion when it comes to awareness of mental health issues, their potential severity, or how to tackle them. We want to change that. Our first priority is to raise awareness, get people talking about mental health and promote the support services available. The response to date has been the best we have received above all other health and safety programmes that we have ever launched.

Alongside the new health strategy, the business has been promoting its existing employee assistance programme.

Says Silvana: “We’re signposting our people to our Employee Assistance Services if they need advice, to access online employee services, or if they need to talk to someone.

The new strategy: impact

Since the rollout of the new strategy, Laing O’Rourke is already seeing better understanding of health and wellbeing across the business, with the initial ‘push’ already turning into a ‘pull’ from within the company as workplaces get involved and engaged. Higher quality management information is allowing key risk areas to be identified more readily, and delivers better assessment, measurement and action-planning.

Silvana concludes: “It’s critical to keep in mind that it’s your business, you can’t delegate the risks and responsibilities, and you need to prioritise and direct your efforts carefully. If you don’t, you’ll have confusion, wasted effort and resource – and a business that isn’t managing its health risks effectively.”

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

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