Statistics South Africa reports that at least 16.2 million South Africans were employed in the formal and informal economy in the first quarter of 2017; and about 1.5 million of these workers are in the construction industry, which contributed about 4% of the gross domestic product in 2016. In the process of industrialisation and urbanisation, construction work provides a traditional point of entry into the labour market for rural-urban worker. Construction is often the only significant alternative for the poor uneducated person, who does not have any particular skill, and it has special importance for the landless. In most countries, construction jobs are undertaken almost exclusively by men; however, women also play an important role, although typically by performing unskilled tasks for very low pay.

The construction industry is usually one of three industries with the highest rate of work-related injury risk. Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety in the construction industry is associated with traumatic injuries, chemical, physical, biological, ergonomics and psychosocial occupational hazard exposures. These occupational exposures can cause occupational and work-related diseases and injuries, which are in the main hidden contributors to the suffering experienced by many workers in the construction industry.

The NIOH and other construction industry stakeholders such as the Department of Labour and Construction Industry Development Board (CIBD) have identified poor OEHS, particularly ill health in the construction industry. This is a global phenomenon since the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 60 000 fatalities occur at construction sites annually (one death every ten minutes) across the globe. Unfortunately, South Africa and the African region lack up to date OEHS data and/or data sources for occupational diseases and injuries, and in particular data on occupational diseases. This lack of data and data sources on occupational diseases means we are unable to quantify occupational diseases, the financial burden and social impact on the workers, enterprises and communities; thus the need for concerted effort by the NIOH and other construction industry stakeholders in highlighting occupational diseases and other ill-health conditions.

Some occupational and non-occupational diseases contributing to ill-health in the construction industry, requiring further attention include among others silica dust-related diseases (silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive airway diseases (COPD), and silico-tuberculosis); asbestos-related diseases (mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and diffuse pleural thickening); diseases associated with exhaust emissions from diesel produced by generators and heavy vehicles (eye and respiratory irritation, and lung cancer); painting exposures diseases (cancers of the lung, bladder and stomach, skin disorders and occupational asthma); dermatological conditions (non-melanoma skin cancer, malignant melanoma and dermatitis); musculoskeletal disorder (hand arm vibration syndrome, backache and repetitive strain injuries); noise induced hearing loss (NIHL); and mental health disorders (stress, depression and anxiety).


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