Health & Safety: Construction SMEs show their commitment in a busy month for OHS

Although considerable improvements in reducing accidents to construction workers took place over recent years, construction remains a high-risk sector and accounts for a high percentage of fatal accidents and major injuries at work. For this reason, EBC has been very vocal in different fora by making the most of a busy month for debates and exchanges on occupation health and safety (OHS). Here is a brief summary of the main messages that EBC shared at various meetings dedicated to OHS, from the most recent to the oldest, during the month of October, which culminated with the European Week for Safety and Health at Work.

Most recently, during the final stakeholders meeting on the impacts of OHS prevention on the performance of construction enterprises held on 23 October, EBC Secretary General Eugenio Quintieri expressed that EBC supports the EC study aiming at developing a taxonomy of the costs and benefits of OHS prevention and elaborating a framework to assess the financial viability of OHS prevention measures from a company perspective. However, the results of the taxonomy should be communicated in a pragmatic SME-friendly manner, by showing concrete examples of economic and social advantages brought by further implementing OHS measures.

On 16 October, the European Union Agency for Occupational Safety and Health (EU-OSHA) held the conference “Improving occupational safety and health in micro and small enterprises in Europe”. On this occasion, EBC Secretary General emphasised the increasingly mobile workforce in the European Union (EU) that poses a challenge for maintaining good health and safety standards on construction sites. This trend highlights the importance of improving effective OHS measures, and maintaining a level playing field in all EU Member States. He also added that OHS is especially challenging for construction SMEs because of their limited size and resources, for example when facing the cost of implementing OHS measures, which is higher than for larger enterprises. He concluded by reminding that Construction SMEs are fully committed to Health and Safety, which is the reason why EBC joined the EU-OSHA 2018–19 campaign “Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances”.

At the beginning of the month, during the first Health and Safety Blueprint stakeholders meeting held on 3 October, EBC highlighted the importance to integrate digital and green skills, as well as health and safety measures related to these new/integrated construction job profiles, into training programmes and Vocational education and training curricula. EBC also participated to the Social Dialogue construction committee meeting dedicated to OHS held on 1 October.

In a nutshell, EBC advocates giving small businesses more flexibility to implement OHS measures in a way that is most appropriate to the nature of their activities, including through alternative measures and increased financial support. Also, more targeted guidance is needed in order to support SMEs in the field of OHS, not only to increase awareness among workers, but also to improve cooperation and communication on construction sites.

Eugenio Quintieri stated: “In a sector in continuous evolution, our SMEs and craftsmen are fully committed to improve health and safety measures for their workers, much further than what derives from legislative obligations. However, we need more financial support and further guidance on OHS, really tailored to SMEs needs, in order to foment a paradigm shift in the construction sector”.