Conference news: International conference in Construction health and safety research

30 November 2015

CIB W099 is the construction health and safety working commission of the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction.

Alistair Gibb, immediate past coordinator of W099 and member of the IOSH Specialist Group in Construction was a delegate at this year’s international conference of CIB W099 conference in Belfast in Northern Ireland. This enabled a visit to the Titanic museum, with fascinating insights into the industrial history of the city as well as some vivid illustrations of life aboard the doomed liner. 

The global membership of CIB W099 was reflected in the wide range of topics presented, including the challenges of managing health and safety when much of the workforce is informal or unregulated; and the difficulties of managing stress related ill-health if the workforce believe that having headaches and other health symptoms is absolutely normal. One of the most exciting presentations was about the health and safety issues of megastructures – the risks inherent for example in refurbishing oil rigs with hundreds of confined spaces and unpredictable events, contributing to many deaths annually in the UK and worldwide.

The conference also considered the gap between industry and academia - the importance of research which explores real problems and the need for the construction sector to act on these findings. A presentation by a representative of the International Labour Organisation suggested a need for more Action Research. This typically includes a partnership, with academia working alongside industry to suggest changes to practice and then monitor their impacts. The lessons learned can then be shared more widely.

One of the highlights of the conference was a session entitled ‘Bashing the heads of bunny rabbits’. The title was perhaps slightly contrived to allow the presenters to destroy a chocolate rabbit with a sledge hammer; but the principle was sound. The suggestion was that if we want to achieve a position of zero harm in construction, we need to tackle one challenge at a time, in the same way that small pox was eliminated though a beautifully orchestrated and enthusiastic campaign. Could that work? Could the BOHS Breathe Freely initiative on occupational lung disease in construction or the HSE’s Beware Asbestos campaign be the beginning of an end to construction ill-health? Answers on a postcard please...

Wendy Jones, Loughborough University.