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The Construction Sector Should Prioritise Health and Safety

H&S is a multi-stakeholder and multi-level issue.

February 14, 2024
By John Smallwood
2 min read

Sub-Saharan Africa is failing when it comes to construction health and safety (H&S). 

The region is renowned for its frequency of building collapses. These catastrophic events pose a significant threat to life and are both financially and reputationally damaging to construction businesses.

Sub-Saharan Africa is built up of developing countries, which seriously complicates the construction H&S landscape.

The lack of sector-specific regulations and guidelines, lean H&S inspectorates, and a low level of education and literacy of workers all contribute to a litany of challenges faced by the construction industry. The overwhelming socio-economic struggles within the region further add to the picture with theft and vandalism a common problem affecting construction sites.

Historically, the ‘safety’ component has been focused upon to the detriment of ‘health’, the irony being that the health issues are greater and, in some cases, latent. 
These include, among others, asbestosis, noise-induced hearing loss, silicosis and stress. There is also a range of primary health issues, many of which are linked with occupational health, such as diabetes, hypertension, poor nutrition, respiratory diseases, smoking and substance abuse.      

The impact of accidents, injuries, ill health in general, poor mental health and wellbeing, inadequate H&S and workforce engagement, damage to the environment, poor productivity, quality non-conformances and rework, and time delays on a business’s image, reputation, profile, profitability and sustainability, can be substantial. 

There is a desperate need for an increased focus on construction H&S and well-being across Sub-Saharan Africa. Addressing such a multitude of challenges is a gigantic task; H&S is a multi-stakeholder and multi-level issue. And unfortunately, this task is often neglected when economic realities are creating difficult operating environments and squeezing margins. This is short-sighted and risks reputational damage further down the line.

I share the Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) position that the H&S of the workforce is the most important issue affecting those working in construction and the built environment globally.

As well as providing safe working conditions and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), employers have a responsibility to ensure employees are fit for the work they do and have the capability and skills necessary to undertake their roles in a healthy and safe manner.

Meanwhile, employees also have a responsibility to behave in a healthy and safe manner and not put themselves, colleagues, or members of the public at risk.

CIOB has several individual training course offerings related to improving general H&S within the workplace, while businesses can reach out to CIOB’s Academy if they need to train multiple employees on how to keep themselves – and others – healthy and safe at work. Further information can be found here.

Photo: Construction site (© Keechuan |