The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is campaigning for manual handling on construction sites to be replaced by mechanisation, including cranes, wherever possible.

Last month it carried out a nationwide blitz of sites under the banner of its Healthy Handling 2005 campaign.

HSE chief inspector for construction Kevin Myers said: ‘Work related ill health affects a significant number of construction workers, and the sector has one of the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorder in industry.

‘We have produced guidance outlining simple and sensible precautions to help clients, designers, planning supervisors and contractors take account of these hazards well before work starts on site. Experience shows that effective management of exposure to these risks can reduce or prevent injury and ill-health to workers.’

The guidance also includes information on a wide range of handling issues, including vibration white finger, and cement burns.

The HSE said that one of the issues that its inspectors were focusing on when visiting sites was the elimination of manual handling tasks, either by design or by mechanisation where practicable.

Musculoskeletal disorders account for 8% of major injuries in the UK construction industry and 34% of three-day injuries. In 2003/04 more than 8,150 construction workers in the UK suffered injuries that kept them off work for more than three days.

In a separate but related initiative, the HSE has published guidance on eliminating manual handling of kerb and paving stones by increasing the use of mechanisation.

The guidance was produced in consultation with the Kerbs Forum, set up in December 2003 as a joint initiative by the HSE, the construction industry and local highway authorities.

The aim is to increase the level of compliance with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, which demand that mechanisation replaces manual handling wherever possible, and risk assessments are carried out where it is not possible.

A typical kerb stone weighs around 67kg, and traditionally kerbs have been manually handled at least three times from arrival on site to their final positioning.

Over the last 18 months, the HSE has been working with the Kerbs Forum to secure increased use of devices such as vacuum lifters and grabs during kerb laying.

In December 2003 the Kerbs Forum agreed transitional timeframes during which the change from manual to mechanically assisted kerb handling would take place.

For newbuild projects, the industry was given until June 2004 to make the change to mechanically-assisted kerb laying.

For spot kerbing or kerb maintenance work, the industry was given until the end of January 2005 to move to mechanically-assisted kerb laying.

The guidance sheet is called Handling kerbs: Reducing the risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Construction Information Sheet No 57. It is available online at