CIF Safety Week – Day 2 – Mind You Health

Day two of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Safety Week 2021. Today’s theme is Mind your Health, it reflects all aspects of a person’s health and wellbeing, not least their physical and mental health.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we remember lives and loved ones lost but we also acknowledge our collective resilience in getting through difficult times.  COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of health in our outlook for the present and for the future.  The Government’s Healthy Ireland’ Strategic Action Plan 2021-2025 outlines priority focus areas for the next 3 years, which include:

  1. Keeping active – being physically active is vital for our physical and mental health, and overall wellbeing throughout the year. The National Physical Activity guidelines recommend 30 mins. of moderate to vigorous physical activity, five days per week for adult, allowing for shorter bouts of physical activity, say 10 mins. at a time.  For children, 60 minutes of physical activity is recommended per day.  For more information, visit: Keep Well
  2. Staying connected – it is important to stay connected with people (whether family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or simply acquaintances) to prevent isolation of self and of others. The spirit of volunteerism and community assistance came to the forefront during lockdown, for example, when persons volunteered to deliver groceries to vulnerable persons.  It is recognised that all forms of engagement that support person-to-person connection is essential to our wellbeing.  For more information, visit: HSE – Make Time for Family and Friends
  3. Switching-off and being creative – home working and schooling during COVID-19 lockdown(s) highlighted the importance of being able to switch-off from work at appropriate times. Experts suggest that being creative, learning something new, spending time in nature, and finding ways to relax can help our general wellbeing. GOV – Switching-off
  4. Eating well – the key messages from Healthy Food for Life are: (a) eat more vegetables, salad and fruit – up to seven servings a day, (b) limit intake of high fat, sugar and salt in food and drinks, (c) size matters – use the Food Pyramid as a guide for serving sizes, (d) increase your physical activity levels, and (e) small changes can make a big difference! For more information, visit: Healthy Ireland – The Food Pyramid
  5. Minding your mood – it is important that we each recognise when we are stressed and having trouble; this is a very normal occurrence, but we cannot ignore it and need to act. During challenging times, experts advise developing a plan to help feel more in control, getting enough sleep, finding some quiet time for yourself each day, engaging in social activities and most importantly, seeking support.  For more information, visit: GOV – Managing Your Mood
  6. Minding your body – it would be prudent to get regularly examined by your doctor / GP, the frequency of said examination would be determined by your GP based on your health and age. Your GP can refer you to hospitals and medical services for urgent and specialist treatment.  Additionally, you can access community health and personal social services through your Local Health Office
  7. Healthy Workplaces – in the context of construction, there are many aspects of our work that need to be considered when designing for health workplaces. Examples include:
    • Ergonomics/ Manual Handling – ergonomics is the term assigned to assessment of physical risks to the human body such as excessive force, awkward posture, and repetition of tasks. The goal is to develop better ways of carrying out work, to ensure that workers do not pose a risk to their musculoskeletal health by acting outside of their physical capabilities (e.g. lifting excessively heavy materials or lifting repeatedly). The Health and Safety Authority recommends a non-exhaustive list of questions to be considered:
      • What unit loads are to be used in a construction project?
      • Will the unit loads be installed manually, or will there be mechanical handling equipment or other appropriate engineering interventions used to install the unit loads?
      • Is there information available on the load weight specifications?
      • Does the load weight present a physical ergonomic risk if the planned system of work requires manual installation?
      • Has a risk assessment been completed to assess exposure to ergonomic risk?
      • Does the planned system of work for installing or assembling unit loads expose workers to a range of ergonomic risk factors including excessive force, sustained awkward postures and lack of recovery time?
      • Does the preliminary health and safety plan prepared by the Project Supervisor for the Design Process make any reference to ergonomic risks that may result when installing loads?
      • Is ergonomic risk considered at design stage?
    • Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) – Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring substance typically found in stone (particularly sandstone, shale, granite, and slate), in the sand and in products such as bricks, tiles, concrete and cement. Where concrete, stone or sand-based materials are altered (during formation, cutting, drilling, polishing or demolition) and made airborne, there is a potential for exposure to RCS dust.  When any dust is inhaled, its point of deposition within the respiratory system is very much dependent upon the range of particle sizes present in the dust; the respirable fraction (smallest particle size) of crystalline silica dust can penetrate deep into the lungs.  RCS is a category 1 carcinogen; the Occupational Exposure Limit Value (OELV) established for Silica, both crystalline and respirable, over an 8-hour reference period is 0.1 mg/m3.  Elimination and substitution of RCS containing materials, dust extraction and/or dust suppression are the primary measures advised to control potential exposure.  The advice given is to:
      • Always assume that exposure is likely to occur and protect according to the level of risk identified from risk assessment
      • Prepare written risk assessments (required by law) highlighting the key hazards, risks, and controls in place
      • Use safe systems of work to reduce exposure based on the risk assessment.
      • Use dust suppression techniques during work.
      • Use of engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation to control exposure can be very effective.
      • Use and store personal protective equipment according to instructions to reduce exposure.

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