The construction industry is one of the most hazardous industries in the UK. According to data from the Health and Safety Executive, construction sits at the number one spot for fatal injuries with a five-year average (2016/17 – 2020/21) of 36 fatalities, compared to the 28 fatal injuries in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry over the same period. However, when you look at the fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers employed, construction is only third worst behind agriculture, forestry and fishing and the waste and recycling industry.
But the fatal injury rate in construction is around four times higher than the average rate across all industries, and accidents and illnesses are also common. Here’s a deep dive into what accidents in construction looked like in 2019/20.
Accidents/Injuries and Fatalities in 2019/20
In construction during the period of 2019/20, there were:
- 40 fatalities relating to construction workers.
- 4 relating to members of the public.
On average, there were 37 fatalities to construction workers and 5 to members of the public each year over the last 5 years. Almost half of the deaths over this time were due to falls from height.
The overall trend of fatal injuries in construction has been on a downward trend for the last few decades, likely due to increased safety measures and advances in safety equipment and technology. However, the numbers have been fairly consistent over the previous few years, with the number of fatalities to workers in 2018/19 being 38, and 6 for members of the public.
Working in construction can also expose people to health-related issues due to time spent working with toxic materials or carrying heavy objects, causing spinal problems. The annual average work-related ill health for construction is thought to be 81,000 (new or long-standing), of which 57% were musculoskeletal disorders.
Around 3.5% of construction workers suffered ill health due to their work. However, this rate is not that different from the average for workers across all industries: 3.4%. The numbers are:
- 46,000 cases of musculoskeletal disorder.
- 21,000 cases of stress, depression or anxiety.
However, the rate of stress, depression or anxiety only accounts for 0.9% of workers in construction, significantly less than the all-industry average of 1.6%.
Other illnesses include occupational respiratory disease like asthma, which affects 0.7 per 100,000 workers on average. Contact dermatitis can also be a hazard to plasterers, bricklayers and other occupations in construction, with workers thought to suffer at more than twice the all-industry rate.
Cancers have also been researched in relation to the construction industry due to exposure to carcinogens. A study suggests that in the UK, around 46% of occurring mesotheliomas (a cancer that follows the inhalation of asbestos fibres) exists in men born in the 1940s who are associated with construction, with 17% attributed to asbestos exposure through carpentry work alone.
The data for non-fatal injuries in construction estimates that there were 61,000 in 2019/20, of which 27% of them required over 7 days absence from work. This accounts for around 2.8% of construction workers across the industry suffering from some kind of injury, a significantly higher number than the all-industry rate.
Over the last three year period (2017/20), the most common kinds of injuries were:
- Slips, trips or falls on the same level – 32%
- Injuries while handling, lifting or carrying – 6%
- Falls from height – 32%
- Struck by moving object – 13%
However, like with fatalities, the overall trend over the years has been a reduction in the number of workplace injuries.
Safety Measures in Construction
Due to the risk of injury, illness and fatalities in the construction industry, it’s no wonder there are such stringent laws and regulations that outline how work can be carried out safely and in a way that minimises risk to both workers and members of the public. Falls from height are the number one cause of fatalities in construction and a major cause of injury. To protect workers from falling while working at height, they must adhere to the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
This regulation lays out that any working at height must be sufficiently planned, supervised and carried out by competent people, including having the right kind of equipment for the job. It states that working at height should only be done when working at ground level is impossible, and risks must be assessed and controlled.
Contingency plans can be put in place with the use of personal protection like a fall arrest system or fall restraint system, or you can utilise collective protection like a permanent or temporary freestanding guardrail. More straightforward working at height can be done with something as simple as a ladder, but safety can still be improved using a fall arrest ladder or a companionway ladder.
At Altus Safety, we can provide you with a complete working at height and roof access solution. Whether you need roof edge protection or roof walkways, or abseiling anchors, we can help. Contact us today to find out more.