Olympic ill-health prevention programme led to substantial savings for contractors

Press Releases

18 Jul 2012

The potential economic benefits of preventing work-related ill-health has been highlighted by new research on the construction of the Olympic Park and Olympic and Paralympic Village. Estimates were made of the likely economic benefits of having a team of occupational hygienists available on site. The scale of the savings was likely to run into millions of pounds.

The occupational hygiene team service saved contractors, employers, the government and individuals money by:

  • reducing the downtime involved in dealing with health risks
  • minimising exposure to health risks, and thereby: reducing the costs of sickness absence (saving the project up to £7m over three years) and reducing the future costs of work-related ill-health (potentially as much as £81m for a workforce of this size).

The research, Occupational Hygiene on the Olympic Park and Athletes' Village, was commissioned by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and undertaken by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). It aimed to identify the potential economic benefits of preventing ill-health amongst the Olympic workforce through having a 'health like safety' approach on site. This ensured that workplace health management was prioritised in the same way as safety, supported by the occupational hygiene team.

Working with the leadership team and each project, the hygienists adopted a range of strategies to prevent work-related ill-health occurring. They provided support on site so that design, method statements and risk assessments were created with a focus on eliminating and reducing exposure to health risks in the workplace. The service was free to all contractors and workers involved.

Based on an annual investment of £350,000 for the wide range of occupational hygiene provision, the service needed only to reduce absence rates amongst the workforce by an average of 30 minutes per worker to pay for itself. In fact the benefits of using the occupational hygiene team outweighed the costs involved. If work-related sickness absence and exposure rates were reduced by two-thirds compared to industry averages (in line with the reductions in safety incidents recorded on the site), the return on investment could have been as much as £7 per £1 investment in reduced sickness absence costs. If programmes such as this could eliminate work-related ill-health, then the savings could be as great as £74 for every £1 spent on occupational hygiene.

Claire Tyers, Principal Associate at IES and the research report's main author, commented:

'With 46,000 people working on the construction of the Olympic Park and Olympic and Paralympic Village, occupational hygiene practices provided real value. Preventative workplace health management has the potential to deliver real economic returns, as well as keeping workers well and able to work at their full capacity. The evidence is clear on this, and construction projects of any size could adopt similar approaches, suitable to their size, and see the benefits for themselves.

‘The 'health like safety' approach adopted by the Olympic Park and the Village meant that managers, supervisors and workers could transfer their existing safety management skills to health. By adopting familiar mechanisms such as risk assessments, daily activity briefings and near miss reporting to focus on health issues, the site was able to firmly place workplace health on the agendas of the contractors and workers involved, with excellent results.’

Lawrence Waterman, Head of Health and Safety for the Olympic Delivery Authority, said:

‘From the beginning of our programme we set health and safety as our top priority, and although the record of accident prevention has been recognized as the best in the industry's history, we are even more proud of the way in which we and all our contractors have looked after the health of this brilliant workforce. The London 2012 Games will open against the stunning backdrop of the Olympic Park and Olympic Village, and we know that with the help of the hygienists the health of workers who have created this setting has been enhanced by their work experience rather than harmed. The IES report proves that this wasn't just the right thing to do, but it has also saved an enormous amount of money. Good occupational health is obviously a good investment.’

Rob Strange OBE, Chief Executive of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), said:

‘This research proves that the business benefits of investing in pragmatic health and safety far outweigh the alternative - skimping on vital worker protection. IOSH is working hard to show businesses that investing in good health and safety not only saves lives, but serious cash too - this research proves this point exactly. The fact that the ODA employed an occupational hygiene team at the Olympic Park meant that they could identify potential hazards before they became serious incidents. This resulted in reduced occupational health risks, enhanced productivity, and a return on investment as high as £74 per £1 spent - these figures should be highly commended.’

The report identifies a number of specific examples of occupational hygiene practice that achieved immediate cost savings:

  • Following the identification of potential methacrylate exposure, the on-site occupational hygiene team was able to save a contractor an estimated £20,000 through speedy identification of the problem, and the introduction of a simple, but effective control regime
  • Having knowledge of likely contaminants on the site allowed the occupational hygiene team to quickly identify that irritating odours that were causing discomfort to the operatives were sulphide based and these would be unlikely to cause any significant health effects. As a result, the contractor was able to save an estimated £98,000 as works could continue without disruption
  • The ability to offer immediate access to tailored asbestos awareness training allowed the hygiene team to save one contractor an estimated £656,000 as its large workforce were able to quickly return to work following site closure after the identification of asbestos containing materials.

Ends

Notes to editors

The Institute for Employment Studies is the UK's leading independent centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment, labour market and human resource policy and practice. It is apolitical and not-for-profit, its activities being funded through research and consultancy commissions, and from its corporate membership programme. The Institute aims to improve employment policy in the UK and internationally by carrying out authoritative research of practical relevance to policy makers and those responsible for implementing policy programmes and initiatives.

For interview or comment from IES please contact: Lorna Howes on 01273 763414 or lorna.howes@employment-studies.co.uk

IOSH is the Chartered body for health and safety professionals. With more than 40,000 members in 85 countries, we're the world's biggest professional health and safety organisation. We set standards, and support, develop and connect our members with resources, guidance, events and training. We're the voice of the profession, and campaign on issues that affect millions of working people. IOSH was founded in 1945 and is a registered charity with international NGO status. See www.iosh.co.uk