The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive are good news.
Construction fatalities between 2010 and 2015 were 28 per cent lower than the five years before. Workplace injuries were also down.
By and large, construction fatalities have been falling for several decades. In 1975, 182 construction workers died. Twenty years later the number had halved.
But by the turn of the century, the fall in accidents appeared to have plateaued and then rose again, prompting then deputy prime minister John Prescott to issue an ultimatum to the industry: improve within six months or we’ll find ways to force you to do so.
The industry rose to the challenge, setting demanding targets for improvements and action plans to deliver them, which have resulted in the general trends in fatalities and accidents continuing downwards since then.
In 2014/15, there were 35 deaths in construction.
“Accidents are happening despite the measures that the majority of construction companies have in place. More needs to be done”
But every death is a death too many. The question for the industry now is how to get this number down to zero. Doing more of the same won’t be enough.
The fact is that these accidents are happening despite the considerable measures that the majority of construction companies have in place. More needs to be done.
As we report this week, contractors and clients have got better at taking a more focused, proportionate approach to risk - putting the greatest effort into tackling the highest-risk areas.
Push even further
But this must go further - and be understood by everyone at all levels of every business throughout the supply chain.
HSE research shows that when asked about the risks present in their workplace, workers are more likely to report physical risks than ‘psychosocial’ ones.
But psychosocial risks can include things such as time pressure or difficult customers, all of which can have knock-on effects on people’s approach to the physical risks.
“This knowledge needs to be married up with what the industry has got much better at doing already on health and safety”
With physical risks, the greatest effort must be directed at the greatest risks. Falls from height made up almost half of all construction deaths between 2010 and 2015, followed by being trapped by something collapsing as the second highest cause and being struck by a moving vehicle the third.
This knowledge needs to be married up with what the industry has got much better at doing already on health and safety: showing strong leadership, involving the workforce, building competence and creating healthier workplaces.
The statistics aren’t just numbers; they are people, with families. We owe it to all of them - and to the future of the industry - to push even harder for zero harm.