The State of Workplace Safety in the Construction Industry

Construction workers are dying because UK companies are failing to provide adequate workplace safety standards. Last year alone saw 30 construction workers suffer a fatal injury at work.  

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states that employers have a responsibility to protect their workers. However, it’s clear from a brief look at industry statistics that enough isn’t being done. Figures from the past year reveal an industry lacking in workplace safety standards, with many UK construction companies even at risk of prosecution for their poor handling of health and safety records.

Get an insight into health and safety compliance within the construction  industry. Download our free report.

Safetybank recently conducted a study, Reducing Risk in Construction, designed to highlight the issues that construction companies face and why they might be failing in their duty to keep workers safe. 

This article takes an in-depth look at the statistics behind the health and safety issues of the construction industry and the reasons why Safetybank believed the report was vital.

Safety at a Glance

A look at the statistics provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for the construction sector in the UK provides a detailed account of the health and safety landscape within the industry. The statistics reveal that 79,000 workers are suffering from work-related ill health. The issues relating to ‘ill health’ can be divided as such:

  • 62% suffering from musculoskeletal disorders
  • 21% of construction workers suffer from stress, depression, and anxiety in the workplace
  • 17% defined as ‘other’ issues

Around 3.4% of all construction workers across the country suffer an ill health issue.

Last year, an estimated 42,000 construction workers suffered a musculoskeletal disorder (an injury sustained in the musculoskeletal system, for instance the joints, ligaments or muscles that support the limbs, neck, and back). Per 100,000 workers, 2.1% have reported suffering a disorder of this kind. This is significantly higher than the rate for workers across other industries, at an average of 1.2%.

The issues defined as ‘other’ that make up the remaining 17% included:

  • Occupational asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Occupational cancer – construction causes around 3,500 new cases each year, with asbestos being the largest cause of occupational cancer
  • Occupational deafness
  • Hand Arm Vibration (generally made up of Vibration White Finger and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)

An Insight into Construction Industry Fatalities

From 2018 to 2019 there were 30 fatalities to construction workers and seven to members of the public, with an average of 36 fatalities to workers and five to members of the public each year over the last five years. This makes construction one of the most dangerous industries in the country to work in.

The main causes of fatal accidents for construction workers are:

  • Falls from a height – 49%
  • Trapped by something collapsing/overturning – 17%
  • Struck by a moving vehicle – 11%
  • Struck by a moving object – 10%
  • Contact with electricity – 5%

The construction industry has the highest average fatalities of any sector in the UK, while the rate of fatal injuries within the industry is four times higher than the national average. The fatality rate, at 1.31 per 100,000 workers, is three times the rate of all other industries. The most common cause of death is falling from a height, attributed to 49% of deaths.

Non-fatal Injuries in the Construction Industry

There is an average of 54,000 non-fatal injuries to construction workers each year. 37% of them required an absence of over three days, while 28% of them required the workers to be absent for over seven days.

The main causes of non-fatal accidents over the last three years are:

  • Falls from a height – 32% (Causing absences of over seven days – 11%)
  • Slips, trips, or falls on the same level – 30% (Causing absences of over seven days – 22%)
  • Struck by moving, including flying/falling, objects – 13% (Causing absences of over seven days – 11%)
  • Injured while handling, lifting, or carrying – 7% (Causing absences of over seven days – 27%)

Action is Needed to Protect Workers

When working in an industry as unpredictable as construction, knowing the risks is critical. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) company Vizwear notes that continued investment in health and safety would help reduce these issues, but for many companies, it isn’t that simple.  

Our report surveyed 2,000 UK construction businesses, evenly split between large corporations and SMEs. The ability to pass an HSE site inspection should be a baseline indicator of whether a company is following health and safety best practices. However, our report, Reducing Risk in Construction, discovered that many UK construction organisations believe they would fail an on-the-spot inspection. Reasons for failure include staff training cutbacks and a shortage of correctly skilled workers.

To compound the issue, many companies aren’t recording their health and safety matters in accordance with the law and are at risk of prosecution. Safetybank discovered that these issues, and other forgotten considerations, are widespread across the entire UK construction industry.

Looking at the state of the industry, failing to follow health and safety best practice contributes to a higher than average number of fatalities, injuries, and mental stress in the workplace and needs to be addressed. 

Attitudes Towards Health & Safety Must Change

Our report details an industry that is failing its employees. We discovered many companies at risk of prosecution, including those that don’t know whether they’re ISO 45001 compliant or not. Download our new report for the latest insight on the state of the construction industry.

Research report - Reducing risk in construction


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