The Futurebuild convention and the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) have published their collaborative Futurebuild Report, which looks at how construction industry working practices can develop and improve, with a focus on worker health.
To inform this piece of original research, the IOM spoke to people from across the sector at the 2022 Futurebuild event, seeking different opinions on the question of how working practices could be enhanced as the industry moved forwards. Answers were captured in a questionnaire, from informal conversations with the IOM team, and through a panel discussion that looked at the subject "What if we got people protection right?".
The key themes in the report that IOM derived from its research are:
- using data and technology
- designing to put users first
- and allowing individuals to take ownership.
In the case of using data and technology, research shows that digital transformation and the technical innovation of the built environment as it relates to workers and end-users is set to increase rapidly.
The report says: “The challenge for the industry is in the adoption of new technologies with many [respondents] citing technology and data as important, but few understanding how to use it to improve worker safety and the work environment. A suggestion in our discussions was to improve safety and monitor staff exposure through wearable technology.”
Regarding the issue of designing work to put users first, when it comes to improved worker health and safety a recurring theme was designing for safety in advance of the construction phase, which would reduce the number of opportunities for harm to the worker.
The report goes on: “Designing working practices in a way that reduces the impact on users and protects them from harmful exposures was found to be a critical issue. The view was that offsite manufacturing is the easiest way to do this, along with mitigating risks and danger by conducting activities in safe environments. Equally, the design of these workspaces is important. For example, ensuring that there is proper ventilation, well-maintained equipment that can be easily accessed, and that all hazards are identified and controlled.”
And in the case of allowing individuals to take ownership, the view of many of those questioned by the IOM was that people in the workplace are the most important element in making the working environment safer in the construction industry.
“The leaders we spoke to were keen to listen more, noting that those on the ground were able to offer greater context and contribute their expertise to provide solutions. Including employee voice in meetings would ensure that changes have the anticipated impact. However, for this approach to be successful, there is a need for a healthy workplace culture,” the report says.
“This report gives industry a new perspective on how to protect staff both now and in the future, forming part of wider goals to be more conscious of the impact work is having on both people and planet,” said Martin Hurn, Director at Futurebuild.
IOM CEO Nathan Baker added: “[The] IOM is committed to improving working environments and it is reassuring that others are doing the same. The industry needs to drive change quicker and focusing on health could be the catalyst for it. [The] IOM’s science and expertise is available to help that happen.”
The data collected for the Futurebuild Report consisted of 81 questionnaire responses, informal conversations at Futurebuild, as well as the panel discussion and individual panellists’ perspectives on the topic. Respondents varied in seniority and type of organisation, with those at director level forming 24% of questionnaire responses.
Read the report in full here.