The deaths of two railway workers this week in separate, unrelated falls from the Tay Bridge and Forth Rail Bridge serve once again to highlight the dangers that still exist in the construction industry.
Put bluntly, in our day to day activities, we manage to kill more of our colleagues than any of the other main UK industry groups.
According to the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) figures, in 2008/09 there were 53 fatal injuries − a rate of 2.5 per 100,000 workers. This is the third highest rate of fatal injuries, behind the much smaller agriculture and extractive industries.
And, it says, “relative to other industries, a higher proportion of reported injuries as caused by falls from height, falling objects, contact with moving machinery, collapses/ overturns and electricity”.
Add to this the fact that at 254.1 major injuries per 100,000 employees last year, construction also hurts and maims more of its workers than any main sector.
“It is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that avoidable accidents are indeed, avoided.”
But of course it is also a fact that the industry is now a much, much safer place to work that it was. According to those same HSE figures, the rate of fatal injuries continues to fall and last year it was less than half the 2000/01 rate.
But without prejudging or commenting on the specific cases in Scotland this week, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that avoidable accidents are indeed, avoided.
Certainly there is a huge amount of work and investment being put in by clients and firms to move towards “zero harm” and this should not be overlooked. But accidents such as those this week demonstrate that our guard cannot be allowed to drop.
Not least as the industry’s workload starts to pick up post-recession. The downturn of the last couple of years cannot fail to have flattered the HSE figures and the fear must be that as activity picks up the number of accidents will also.
The latest HSE-backed research by industry research body CIRIA into major hazards in construction is therefore extremely timely. It is an opportunity for the industry to work together to examine the often simple, often complex causes of accidents and failures.
“Thankfully major incidents are rare but too often their consequences are catastrophic.”
It is a critical issue for the industry and one that NCE is proud to support. Thankfully major incidents are rare but too often their consequences are catastrophic − personally, financially, and corporately.
I therefore urge everyone in construction to fill in the online questionnaire detailed on page 14 and then get involved in this project by sharing best practice and ideas.
Because − and here’s one last HSE stat − last year it is reckoned that injury and work-related ill health cost the industry 3M working days.
Moral issues aside, given the pressure on everyone’s bottom lines, if nothing else, that is a cost that we really need to control.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor