Controlling exposures to prevent occupational lung disease in industry

Breathe Freely initiative backs #HelpGBWorkWell with new plans


Press release: 26th January 2016

BOHS has unveiled new plans for its Breathe Freely initiative to tackle Britain’s burden of work-related ill-health and help Great Britain work well, in support of the forthcoming five-strategy recently announced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the campaign hashtag:  #HelpGBWorkWell.

As the discussions around the HSE’s new five-year strategy from 2016 to 2020 get underway, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection warmly welcomed the HSE’s commitment to “highlight and tackle the burden of work-related ill-health” as one of six key themes for its forthcoming five-year strategy.

Announcing new plans for its Breathe Freely initiative in 2016, the Society predicts that respiratory health in the construction industry will be absolutely critical to the success of the HSE’s strategy on work-related disease:

  • With a massive 13,000 work-related deaths in Britain each year, and 99% of these caused by occupational disease, research has shown that 8,000 of these deaths are due to occupational cancer, but of all the industry sectors, the construction industry accounts for the largest proportion (over 40%, or 3,500).
  • The majority of these cases of cancer are caused by breathing in carcinogenic substances, with the most significant carcinogens in the construction sector being past exposure to asbestos, silica and painting and diesel engine exhaust fumes.
  • It is estimated that around 4,000 annual work-related deaths could be the result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), such as bronchitis and emphysema, and the construction sector is among the top five industries for deaths from COPD.

Following its successful launch in April 2015, Breathe Freely has attracted unprecedented levels of support from employers, trade unions and other influential people and organisations within the construction sector and elsewhere.

An activity-packed calendar of activities in 2015 included Breathe Freely roadshows around the country for construction managers and site supervisors, designed to offer practical advice on managing health and equipping attendees to make improvements on their sites. The Society also launched the Health in Industry (HI) Management Standard, setting out best practice criteria for worker health protection. Companies can sign up to the Standard and self-assess how they are performing.  In addition, a wide range of free guidance materials were published on the Breathe Freely website, including best practice case studies, fact sheets and a Good Business Case outlining the evidence that not only is good occupational hygiene the right thing to do but it makes excellent business sense too.

As 2016 begins, BOHS has pledged to employ the growing reach of the Breathe Freely initiative to collaborate closely with the HSE in its goal of highlighting and tackling work-related ill health in Britain and helping Great Britain to work well.



In particular, 2016 promises to be another busy year for Breathe Freely with:

  • more free guidance materials due to be released soon, in the form of a construction manager’s toolkit of practical resources to help identify and assess the risks to health on site and to communicate these to their workers
  • a new series of roadshows (dates to be announced soon)
  • a one day Breathe Freely conference on 27 April in Glasgow
  • a new Breathe Freely Facebook page to facilitate the sharing of best practice.

Commenting on the plans, Mike Slater, immediate Past President of BOHS, said, “As occupational hygienists, we are delighted to note the HSE’s commitment to take action on work-related ill health as a central part of its new five-year strategy for 2016 to 2020. The aim of the Breathe Freely initiative is not only to raise awareness of lung disease in the construction sector but also to effect real change, to improve practice and ultimately reduce work-related ill health and deaths in the industry. Therefore, on behalf of the Society, I would like to pledge the resources and activities of Breathe Freely in full collaboration with HSE to support our mutual goal of protecting the health of workers.”


Further information



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The 6 Themes from HSE campaign on:

Acting together

Promoting broader ownership of health and safety in Great Britain



Tackling ill health

Highlighting and tackling the costs of work-related ill health



Managing risk well

Simplifying risk management and helping business to grow



Supporting small employers

Giving SMEs simple advice so that they know what they have to do



Keeping pace with change

Anticipating and tackling new health and safety challenges



Sharing our success

Promoting the benefits of Great Britain’s world-class health and safety system