In December, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released its annual report on accidents and ill health in the construction industry. The Construction Statistics in Great Britain Report 2021 covers the period from April 2020 to March 2021 – a difficult time for the industry and indeed for the wider economy, as successive lockdowns brought projects to a screaming halt and materials shortages caused prices to spike.
So, what can the statistics tell us about safety in the construction sector today?
An increase in fatalities
April 2020 to March 2021 saw 39 fatal accidents to construction workers and four to members of the public, compared with an average of 36 and five in the five-year period from 2016/17 to 2020/21. Half of these were the result of falls from a height, with other causes including being trapped underneath something collapsing or overturning, being struck by a moving object or vehicle and coming into contact with moving machinery.
With a fatality rate of 1.62 per 100,000 workers, construction workers are around four times more likely to suffer a fatal accident than the average worker across all industries, making it the third most dangerous sector after agriculture, forestry and fishing and water supply sewerage, waste management and remediation activities.
When compared to 1981’s rate of 7.9 workers per 100,000, however, it is safe to say that safety has significantly improved over the past four decades.
Non-fatal injury rate remains stable
The average annual injury rate for the period between 2018/19 and 2020/21 was broadly similar to the previous three-year average, suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic has not significantly impacted the downward trend in non-fatal workplace construction injuries. The report reveals that there were 61,000 non-fatal injuries to construction workers during 2020/21, equalling a rate of 2.9%. Over four in 10 of these injuries led to an absence from work of over seven days, with falls from a height, slips, trips or falls on the same level, being injured while handing, lifting and carrying, and being struck by a moving object among the most common causes of injury.
While the charts do show long-term improvements in both fatal and non-fatal injury rates, the fact remains that nobody should have to risk losing their lives at work – that’s why we have laws and regulations to prevent it. And, with the industry facing a critical skills shortage within the next few years, it’s harming construction’s image among younger generations.
“Dirty, dangerous and difficult” – it is these kinds of perceptions of construction, which continue to be worryingly prevalent, that are contributing to the sector’s ongoing recruitment crisis, with surveys of younger generations consistently showing that these age groups are shunning careers in construction. In fact, a recent study revealed that under a third of ‘Generation Z’ – i.e. those born from 1997 onwards – would consider working in the construction industry.
This is why ensuring that all construction workers are adequately trained in health and safety measures has never been more important. Not only will it prevent tragic and needless deaths and accidents, but it will also contribute to promoting a more positive image of the industry at a time where attracting new talent is becoming ever more critical to construction’s continued success.