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Tags: Construction & Property, construction-and-property, blog

Construction sites are arguably the most physically challenging and risky places to work. Each year, the Health and Safety Executive estimates, as many as three percent of those working in the construction industry - around 60,000 to 70,000 - report an injury at work, far higher than in most other employment sectors.

In this blog, we bring you up to speed with the legal requirements regarding health and safety, and take a closer look at the current state of health and safety within the UK's construction industry!

The legal requirements of health and safety in the world of construction

Health and safety law in the UK is made up of a combination of legislation and regulations that are designed to create a comprehensive serious of rules that will protect employees in their place of work. The onus is always on those with control of conditions and the working environment to take steps to ensure that it is the best that it can be.

Health and Safety legislation is not a one size fits all standard, and due to the physically taxing nature of construction roles, the industry has specific legislation to address the risks in that arena – such as the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989.

There are two other health and safety regulations that are particularly relevant to the UK’s construction industry:

  • The Building Act 1984: As the primary legislation, its stated purpose is to ‘secure the health, safety, welfare and convenience of persons in or about buildings and of others who may be affected by buildings or matters connected with buildings.’

  • The Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015: Rooted in an EU Directive, it includes the following wording: ‘The person(s) responsible for co-ordination on the site shall ensure that employers and self-employed persons apply the general prevention principles, particularly in respect of the situations described, and that the health and safety plan is taken into account when necessary. They shall also organise co-operation between employers in matters of health and safety and check that the working procedures are being implemented correctly as well as ensure that no unauthorised persons enter the site.’

The state of health and safety in the UK's Construction industry

If there is one industry where health and safety really matters, it is construction. From accidents on unsafe sites through to the health issues that can arise from heavy and repetitive work, there’s no disputing that the risk of harm within the construction industry is huge!

However, recent statistics show that the industry has a long way to go in terms of understanding the risks which impact the health and safety of construction workers, and also in the implementation of health and safety measures.

According to a recent report by the Health and Safety Executive, each year approximately 80,000 construction workers in Great Britain suffer from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their work. Of these cases, around 40 percent were new conditions which started during the year, while the remainder were long-standing conditions.

Within construction, there is a broad range of jobs, and some are more hazardous than others. Some groups of these workers are more likely to be at risk of work-related ill health. For example, in the Skilled Construction and Building Trades occupation group, approximately 4.8 percent of workers in this suffer from an illness that they believe was caused or made worse by their work in the sector.

When addressing workplace injuries, the report shows that approximately 64,000 construction workers sustained an injury at work each year between 2014 and 2017. Of these cases, 32 percent were to workers in construction buildings, 58 percent were to workers in specialised construction activities and 10 percent were to workers in civil engineering. A total of 196 construction workers were fatally injured over the course of 2016 and 2017, and nearly 50 percent of these injuries were caused by a fall from a height. There were also four fatalities to members of the public involving construction work.

The Labour Force survey found that on average, stress and musculoskeletal disorders account for approximately 80 percent of the work-related ill health cases in the Construction sector. Each year, around six in each thousand workers reported suffering from stress, depression or anxiety they believed was work-related. A research report published by the Office for National Statistics indicates that the risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction roles, was three times higher than the male national average.

The construction industry also has the largest percentage of fatalities resulting from cancer in the workplace - approximately 3,500 each year. The majority of these deaths were caused by past exposure to asbestos (over 2,500 annual deaths from mesothelioma) and silica. These two carcinogens are associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The importance of addressing health and safety risks

Addressing health and safety problems isn’t just vital in order to protect construction workers, it’s also important for construction companies. The health and safety of workers has implications not only for productivity and profitability, but also because companies themselves risk being:

  • Fined by the Health and Safety Executive

  • Banned from working at all, through the issue of prohibition notices

  • Prosecuted and even convicted for negligence

  • Sued for accidents, death, injury and disability

Additionally, non-compliance with guidelines and regulations or the ignoring of health and safety issues which leads to any of those actions above also significantly contributes to ruining a company’s reputation and the stripping of accreditations or memberships of leading industry bodies.

For these reasons, it is also most certainly within the employer’s best interest to ensure that the legal health and safety standards are implemented and maintained within their workplaces.

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