A month long campaign has been launched by the Health & Safety Executive aimed at reducing the number of construction site injuries and deaths.
Safety inspectors have promised ‘robust’ action as part of a clampdown on unsafe working practices and poor safety standards on British building sites.
The construction industry has traditionally been one of the most dangerous industries in the UK. The latest Health & Safety Executive (HSE) study in 2013 identified that there were 39 fatal injuries in 2012/13, and 3,700 occupational cancer cases. Falls from height accidents (59%) were the cause of the majority of the serious injuries and fatalities.
The construction industry has the largest number of occupational cancer cases in the entire UK industrial sector, with 40% linked to exposures within the industry, primarily from asbestos (69%) and silica (17%). Radiation and coal tars are also causes of occupational cancer.
Injury and illness were responsible for 1.4 million working days lost in 2011/12, with 818,000 days to ill health, and 584,000 lost due to workplace injuries.
Pleasingly, the figures are reducing. The average number of fatal work accidents in the past five years has been 39 rather than 53, but this positivism is qualified by a reduction in the country’s economic activity. The recession has resulted in output in the construction industry showing a reduction of 14.7% at Q2 2013 from its pre-downturn peak of Q1 2008.
The concern we have is the construction industry is taking on more inexperienced workers at a time when despite a month long campaign by the HSE, there has been a significant cut in the budget of the Health & Safety Executive in recent years. Without monitoring and control, there is a tendency to cut corners with serious consequences for the workforce.
The increasing number of casual workers taken on in the past decades, many of whom are non-union, and the reduction in HSE construction site inspections (7% down from 2011/12 to 2012/13 according to UCATT the building union) suggests that any reduction in construction site injuries and illnesses is likely to be replaced by a return to the higher levels of injuries and fatalities once the recession ends.
Safety inspectors have pledged "robust" action as part of a crackdown on poor standards and unsafe working practices on Britain's building sites.
Philip White, the HSE's Chief Inspector of Construction, urged building firms to make sure working conditions on sites were safe, adding, "Industry has made much progress in reducing the number of people killed and injured in its activities, but for every fatal accident, approximately 100 construction workers die from a work-related cancer.
"During the recent health initiative, enforcement action was taken on one in six sites. Time and again we find smaller contractors working on refurbishment and repair work failing to protect their workers through a lack of awareness and poor control of risks.
"This isn't acceptable as it costs lives, and we will take strong and robust action where we find poor practice and risky behaviour.
"Through campaigns like this we aim to ensure contractors take all risks to their workers seriously and not just focus on immediate safety implications. They need to put in place practical measures to keep workers both safe and well."
Simon Allen is the National Practice Group Leader of the Personal Injury Claims Department focusing on Employers Liability and Occupational Disease at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Sheffield.
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