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Major injury rates are back on the increase

The Health and Safety Executive’s latest figures for the construction industry make for depressing reading

Not that we needed more bad news, but the safety regulator has served construction a shoddy report card.

And while the Health and Safety Executive has been pleading with firms to not cut corners during the downturn, the sector’s failure to keep injury rates on a downward trend cannot be ascribed to the recession.

Not completely anyway. The figures, released just last week, are for 2007/2008 – meaning from April 2007 to the first few months of this year – and are up on last year.

It is not just the number of injuries that have grown – this can sometimes be caused by an increase in activity – but also the rates of injury.

Over-three-day and major injury rates climbed for the first time in almost a decade.

The HSE said it was “unclear” whether the rise – a 4 per cent increase in the case of overthree-day injury rates – was a slight stumble or the end of the downward trend.

But it did confirm that the rate of reported major injury among those employed in construction remained the highest of any industry in the UK.

This is not something the construction sector, still desperate for skilled workers in several boom areas, really wants to be advertising.

Fatalities down

Of course deaths were down, they said, but we knew that already. In 2007/2008 there were 72 fatalities. That’s a drop from 79 in 2006/2007. But the data shows that 79 was the highest number since 2001/2002 – it dropped to 60 in 2005/2006.

Construction still has the largest number of fatal injuries compared with other industry groups, accounting for 31 per cent of all worker deaths last year.

The injury statistics will no doubt be closely scrutinised by the HSE, which has come under fire from all directions of late.

At a time when injuries and fatalities should be the exception, not the norm, measures need to be taken that will actually have an impact.

Even more worryingly – as construction union Ucatt pointed out – it is unlikely that this is the whole picture.

According to researchers at the University of Liverpool, only 30 per cent of employees and 13 per cent of self-employed workers report injuries.

That is why plans for a major safety inquiry have been drawn up.

The Government wants, and needs, to be seen to be doing something about this.

Exactly what form the investigation will take, though, remains unclear.

Will it help to ensure that next year these numbers move in a downward direction?

Some fear it will just be a paper shuffling exercise. In a recent online poll of more than 200 Construction News readers, only 28 per cent believed the inquiry would have any effect at all on fatalities.

Not promising – and yet another depressing statistic to add to the list.