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Workplace accidents fall, but construction needs to stay vigilant

The annual workplace injury statistics recently released by the Health and Safety Executive showed a strong decline in workplace accidents, with the number of those killed in construction down to 39 from the collective five-year average of 53.

However, while this seems to be a step in the right direction, taking the figures at face value might lead some to believe the construction sector is doing everything required of it in regard to site safety.

Although we have certainly seen an increased commitment to health and safety from construction firms across the board, it is important to acknowledge the wide-ranging factors that determine the new statistics.

For instance, falling incident rates could be linked to a drop in employment, or a lower number of ongoing projects. Fewer injuries could simply indicate that there are just fewer people on site.

SMEs are vulnerable

The results also suggest that small businesses or self-employed subcontractors are among the most vulnerable groups when working on site.

Of the 39 fatal incidents in construction last year, 12 of those killed were self-employed workers.

The increased risk for SMEs or self-employed workers is often down to a lack of defined health and safety guidance within their working practices, with perhaps no H&S management to answer to, which means some necessary safety guidelines may be overlooked.

The success rate of health and safety procedure is decided by both the company’s culture and by individual behaviour.

This is set to be an increasingly prevalent issue for smaller businesses, with the HSE due to streamline its policies next year, leading to a potentially superficial understanding of health and safety requirements within the industry.

Need to understand H&S

It is the responsibility of all companies to make sure that safety regulations are followed by every worker on site, while self-employed workers or small teams may struggle to adapt their methods to correspond with those that contracted their services – ie the larger contractor.

Despite the promising fall in accidents at work, simply absorbing the statistics could create a false sense of security.

Ensuring that everyone on site has a clear understanding of the expected level of health and safety competence is the only way to keep the incidences of injury at work on a steady downward trajectory.

Claire Oakes is SHE manager of Pochin and chair of the North West Construction Safety Group

HSE Workplace Injury Statistics 2012/13

  • 148 workers killed at work, equivalent to a rate of fatal injury of 0.5 per 100,000 workers – 39 of these were in the construction industry, the highest rate in any sector.
  • 78,222 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR, or 311.6 per 100,000 workers. Of these, 19,707 were reported major injuries, or 78.5 per 100,000.
  • The most common kinds of accident were slips or trips (43 per cent) and falls from height (13 per cent). The most reported over-seven-day injuries were caused by handling, lifting or carrying (27 per cent) and slips or trips (26 per cent). All of these are common hazards on construction sites.
  • 175 000 over-7-day absence injuries occurred (LFS).
  • 1.1m working people were suffering from a work-related illness during 2011/12.
  • 27m working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury in 2011/12.
  • There are currently around 13,000 deaths each year from work-related diseases, with 2005 data suggesting that at least 8,000 of these are caused by occupational cancer. More than half of these were caused by exposure to asbestos (either mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer).
  • In 2011, there were 2,291 mesothelioma deaths caused by post-exposure to asbestos. This was a fall from 2,360 in 2010, but the HSE says the number is “expected to increase in future years before peaking towards the end of this decade”.
  • There were 429 asbestosis deaths in 2011 where asbestos is “likely to have contributed as a cause”.
  • Construction’s self-reported ill health and injury rate was “statistically significantly higher than for all industry”.
  • Process, plant and machine operatives and skilled trade operatives also have injury rates “statistically significantly higher than the average”.
  • Workplace injuries and ill health (excluding cancer) cost society an estimated £13.8bn in 2010/11

All statistics taken from the Health and Safety Executive’s Annual Statistics Report for Great Britain 2012/13, published on 30 October 2013

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