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Why is Construction one of the Most Dangerous Jobs in the UK?

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Why is Construction one of the Most Dangerous Jobs in the UK?


Construction workers are most at risk of death than any other type of worker in the UK.

The construction industry has held first place in the most dangerous jobs list for quite some time, above a whole host of occupations you might think are more risky, such as lorry driving, mining & rig work, and farming, fishing & forestry.

Even at the height of the economic downturn in 2012 to 2013, when the number of workers in the construction industry had plummeted, 39 workers still lost their lives in the course of their jobs. Although this statistic is often cited as evidence of improvement in relation to previous years, the reduced number of fatalities is relative to the reduced number of workers at the time.

The safest sites to work on are those managed by larger companies or public sector sites as these are more likely to have the resources and incentives to ensure their workers are properly trained and protected. However the level of risk increases on smaller sites and for those working at height. In fact, 45% of all construction deaths involve workers falling from height.

So why are construction workers more at risk of losing their lives than any other type of employee in the UK?

Large industry

First of all, construction is one of the largest industries in the UK, and so employs more people than, for example, the financial or retail sector. However the number of deaths is still disproportionate to the number of workers, so that clearly isn’t the only reason.

Inherently dangerous

Secondly, we can’t forget that construction is inherently more dangerous. The combination of risk factors (such as vehicles, equipment, tools and heights) is something that few other sectors share. However, with all of these risks, there are possible steps that should be taken to reduce or eliminate the possibility of injury or death.

Casual workers

The construction industry has been designed for maximum flexibility, which means that workers are often treated as temporary or ‘casual.’ As a result, over 40% of construction workers are self-employed, ready to be picked up and dropped depending on economic and project requirements. As a result, there is no real sense of responsibility for these workers and if they’ve been drafted in as labourers for busy periods, there’s a chance these workers are not properly trained and lack the experience necessary to keep themselves safe on site.

The flexible nature of the work, and the speed at which a construction worker can find themselves without a job, means many are keen to work hard to ensure continued employment, which leaves them reluctant to raise possible health and safety concerns.

Culture of Safety

For a workplace to be safe, it must have a well embedded culture of safety where employees feel they can raise concerns, and where employers take responsibility for the safety of their staff.

Yet, in the construction industry (and let’s not forget that it is well recognised as the most dangerous industry in the UK) this culture of health and safety is thought to be severely lacking.

Health and safety regulations, risk assessments and theoretical classroom learning is often disregarded by both employers and employees alike. It is regularly referred to as a hindrance, and many believe it to be a waste of time, with demands being made of them to adhere to health and safety rules, made by people who have no experience of the actual requirements of the tasks at hand.

This disregard from individual employees is often encouraged by employers who expect workers to reach tight deadlines and ‘make do’ with limited resources, which results in corners being cut.

The most startling revelation is that even now, Union members believe they are at risk of being ‘blacklisted’ from construction sites, and Union representatives are commonly turned away from sites. Only 10% of those working in construction are a member of a Union and many of those feel it necessary to keep their membership secret. So, even if a worker does have concerns and they want advice or assistance raising them, they have very little support or guidance in doing so.

HSE Funding

Another factor believed to be contributing to the lack of safe working practices is the Health and Safety Executive’s diminishing presence on sites. In 2011, the HSE had their government funding cut by 35%; the full impact of this cut is now being felt across the industry.

There’s been a notable fall in the number of unannounced inspections on sites, as well as the amount of improvement notices served to employers and the number of prosecutions of employers for safety offences. The combination of these three reductions is allowing dangerous working practices to go unnoticed and uncontrolled.

This cut came despite a report – ‘One Death Too Many’ –  published in 2010 by Baroness Donaghy which called for an increase in funding to allow the HSE to function properly and effectively.

Health and Safety Training

One of the most common reasons for prosecutions of employers on the grounds of health and safety is that they have not supplied sufficient and adequate training to staff, or have not provided sufficient or adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The team here at Health and Safety Training Ltd have years of experience delivering high quality training for the construction industry and can tailor courses in a wide range of areas to suit the specific requirements of your site and staff.

Whether you need your supervisors trained to recognise, assess and eliminate potential risks, or you want to train your staff to keep themselves safe during their day-to-day work, we can help to establish a culture of safety in your organisation that will keep your staff safe and protect you from liability in the event of an accident.

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