Falling Short: The High Cost of Neglecting Safety in the UK Construction Industry

The construction industry in the United Kingdom is one of the most dangerous industries to work in. It has consistently been in the top spot since 2017, followed by the group ‘Agriculture, forestry and fishing’. What is causing these fatalities and what is being done to stop them?

What does ‘Construction’ include?

First off, what is ‘construction’? Construction includes three broad industry groups:

• Construction of buildings – general construction of buildings, including new work, repair, additions and alterations;

• Civil engineering – civil engineering work, including road and railway construction, and utility projects; and

• Specialised construction activities – covering trades that usually specialise in one aspect, common to different structures. For example: demolition, electrical, plumbing, joinery, plastering, painting and glazing.¹

There is an overlap between these groups, for example roofing work may be carried out by a specialist contractor and so included in Specialised construction activities or by a general contractor as part of Construction of buildings. This sector accounts for 6% of the total workforce in Great Britain. ²

The dangers within the construction industry

Percentage of Fatality Causes in the Construction Industry 2022. ³

Each year, thousands of construction workers are injured or killed on the job due to a variety of hazards. These hazards include falls from heights, being struck by falling objects, and being caught in or between equipment or structures. Within the UK there were 30 fatal injuries to workers and 5 to members of the public during 2021-22 which is 10 less than the previous year. Data collected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows an average of 36 fatalities to workers and 5 to members of the public each year over the last five years. 51% of deaths over the same five-year period were due to Falls from a height. ⁴

Falls from height

One of the major hazards in the construction industry is falls from heights. Workers who work at heights, such as roofers and scaffolders, are at risk of falling if proper safety measures are not taken.

During 2021-22 there were 15 fatalities resulting from falls from height across Construction of buildings, Civil Engineering and Specialised construction activities. 100% of these fatalities were male. The ages of those who died ranged from 16 to over 65, with the majority being in the 45-54 year old bracket.⁵


Being Struck by Objects

Another major hazard in the construction industry is being struck by falling objects. Workers on construction sites are at risk of being hit by falling debris, tools, or equipment.

Days before Christmas in 2021 a construction worker was killed after being struck by a falling object in Shoreditch, London. ⁶ The 32 year old was working on a residential development project on East Road.

To prevent more instances like this, employers must ensure that all tools and equipment are properly secured and that workers are trained to recognize and avoid falling hazards.

Being Caught in or Between Equipment or Structures

Being caught in or between equipment or structures is also a major hazard in the construction industry. Workers can be crushed or trapped if they come into contact with heavy machinery or if a structure collapses.

In 2020 the Director of TLW was sentenced to four years in jail for manslaughter by gross negligence when one of his employees was killed after being crushed between a glass and metal panel weighing hundreds of kilos that fell against a forklift truck.⁷

Employers must provide training on how to safely operate and maintain equipment, and must ensure that all structures are properly built, secured and maintained.

Going Forward in the Construction Industry

In conclusion, the construction industry in the United Kingdom is a dangerous place to work, with a high number of injuries and deaths each year. The main hazards that construction workers face include falls from heights, being struck by falling objects, and being caught in or between equipment or structures. Other dangers such as exposure to hazardous materials, electrical hazards, and noise-induced hearing loss also pose a threat to the workers.

However, it is important to note that with proper safety measures in place, the risk of injury or death in construction can be greatly reduced. Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that their workers are properly trained and equipped to perform their jobs safely.

In light of this, it is crucial that employers take their responsibilities seriously and prioritize the safety of their workers. Furthermore, the government and other stakeholders should work together with businesses in ensuring that regulations are being implemented and enforced effectively. The construction industry is vital to the UK economy and the safety of the workers should be a top priority.

  1. UK SIC 2007 – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
  2. Annual Population Survey, 2021
  3. Construction statistics in Great Britain, 2022, HSE
  4. RIDDOR, 2021/22; RIDDOR, 2017/18-2021/22
  5. Fatalities reportable under RIDDOR, 2017/18 to 2021/22p
  6. https://www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/23010908.inquest-names-construction-worker-died-hoxton-building-site/
  7. https://www.cieh.org/ehn/health-and-safety/2020/february/employer-jailed-after-worker-crushed-to-death/

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