Construction sites: why are they so dangerous?

Among UK employment sectors, construction is consistently found to be one of the most dangerous.

In 2018/19, it saw the second highest number of deaths at work, with 30 people killed on the job, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It was only beaten by the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry.

In the previous 12 months, 38 people died at work in the construction sector, putting it at the top of the list of most dangerous sectors.

But why are workers in this industry at such high risk of a severe or deadly accident at work?

Most dangerous activities

Although construction’s safety rate is improving – in 2015/16, 47 people died while at work in the sector, compared to the most recent figure of 30 – it is still an industry particularly full of hazards. This will not surprise anyone who has ever strolled past a construction site – and certainly not to anyone who works on one.

In 2018/19, 40 people were killed after falling from a height. A further 30 died after being hit by a moving vehicle, while 16 lost their lives after being struck by a moving object. Contact with moving machinery killed 14 people, while being trapped by a collapsing or overturning object killed 11. These hazards are all commonly found on construction sites, leading to a higher number of fatal accidents than most other industries.

Risk of industrial disease

There is also a higher than average risk for developing certain industrial diseases. Construction workers can often find that they’re working with certain types of dust. The dangers of exposure to asbestos have been well documented, but other forms of dust are also a risk to health. Silica dust can damage the lungs, while wood dust has been linked to nasal cancer. Other construction products – including gypsum, cement and marble – can produce non-silica dust, which could lead to health problems such as lung cancer, COPD and asthma.

Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) – also known as vibration white finger – is yet another risk to the health of construction site workers. Since these workers are more likely than others to use equipment that vibrates – such as power tools – they are more at risk of developing this sort of condition. The HSE has estimated that nearly 2 million people are at risk of developing HAVS – and a significant proportion of those will work in construction.

Types of injuries

When it comes to non-fatal injuries, construction sites also present a number of threats. Slips, trips and falls on the same level are the biggest reason for non-fatal injuries in the workplace – accounting for 29% of non-fatal workplace injuries – and with so many obstacles and potential spills present in construction sites, it’s a particularly common accident.

Manual handling injuries are also a significant threat to those working in construction. With so many heavy loads that need to be moved across these sites, handling can present a significant threat. Meanwhile, being struck by a moving object is responsible for 10% of accidents at work. Construction sites feature a huge amount of moving objects, from lifting equipment to crane loads, presenting a real threat to workers.

Construction sites are essential to civilisation. But they remain particularly dangerous workplaces. For this reason, it is vital that construction site workers prioritise health and safety policies. But it’s also important that they know what to do when things go wrong and how legal representation could help them obtain justice after an incident leading to an injury.

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