Major construction projects can potentially ‘upskill’ employees, research has shown.
The findings come as a result of a three-year research project. It looked at the effects of health and wellbeing interventions on staff working on London’s new ‘super sewer’; the Thames Tideway Tunnel project.
The Tideway project is a 25 km tunnel running mostly under the tidal section of the River Thames through central London. Currently under-construction, it will provide capture, storage and conveyance of almost all raw sewage and rainwater discharges that currently overflow into the river.
The study discovered that such projects have the potential to “upskill” the workforce with ‘universally high’ health management standards when construction managers are supported by occupational health and health and safety professionals.
The construction teams working on the project benefitted from integrated researchers from Loughborough University. They monitored key health and safety processes, personnel, documentation, events and activities.
Various interventions took place which included working with occupational hygienists to improve understanding and managing health risks. Training sessions were also held to focus on practical control measures for those who contribute to risk assessments, including project managers, engineers and supervisors.
The study, called ‘Raising the bar for occupational health management in construction’, published in the Institution of Civil Engineers’ journal Civil Engineering, said it was vital that major construction firms ensured subcontractors prioritised health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Subcontractors at Tideway were required to put their own health check arrangements in place, encouraging them to “take ownership” of occupational health provision, however, the research paper said it was important to ‘join-up’ workers’ health records in case of potential fragmented health data.
Alistair Gibb, professor of construction engineering management at Loughborough University, said: “Major projects such as Tideway are critical to developing universally high health management standards and are well-placed to champion good OH services and to use their expertise and influence to embed change within their own supply chains.
“To achieve long-lasting improvements, these standards must be adopted throughout the sector, particularly within the SMEs which employ the majority of the workforce.”
Steve Hails, director of health, safety and wellbeing at Tideway, said: “The support from IOSH and Loughborough University has been invaluable in identifying our progress.
“This unique approach to conducting a longitudinal study with skilled researchers embedded into our construction teams, has allowed us to compile legacy information in real time rather than, as has historically been the case, at the end of the project. This gives Tideway objective feedback during our works and informs our future direction.
“There are additional wider industry benefits for future projects to learn from our experiences through this approach and realising the benefits of industry working collaboratively with academia during the planning and construction phases of work.”