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Written by
on 08 May 2018


According to a recent study, more than half of UK workers lack the basic knowledge to keep themselves safe in the workplace. People from a range of industries including construction, retail and manufacturing were surveyed, and alarmingly, results showed that 52% of respondents working in property and construction didn’t know the basic health and safety rules for their respective workplaces. Worryingly, 43% didn’t think their workplace adhered to any health and safety rules at all.

Workplace spot checks conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have previously found that around 40% of construction sites fail to meet health and safety standards, so it’s clear that employers in the construction industry are failing to provide a safe working environment.

“For this to be rectified, employers need to ensure their employees are appropriately trained in workplace health and safety, otherwise the number of serious injuries may continue to rise.” Says British Safety Council Chief Executive Mike Robinson. According to the HSE, the rate of fatal injury in the construction industry in 2017 was four times higher than the average rate across all industries.

Red Tape

With the construction industry being so high-risk, it’s vital that changes are made to protect both its workers and the bottom line of employers (as failure to properly implement health and safety regulations can result in hefty fines for firms and companies). It’s thought that up to a third of the reported accidents at work could be avoided altogether with improved health and safety practices and better risk management and planning.

There is still an industry-wide belief that too much bureaucracy prevents health and safety regulations from being appropriately implemented, as well as a feeling that employees are often resistant to following the procedures that are in place.

More alarmingly, there is also a common attitude that health and safety is not of paramount importance, even within high-risk industries like building and construction. So, what can be done to mitigate an unhealthy risk culture and improve the health and safety of those that work within the construction industry?

Awareness and Training

No matter the experience level or role of the worker, anyone that sets foot on a construction site must be fully aware of the potential risks and hazards beforehand. Ignorance and lack of knowledge around health and safety procedures not only put the safety of the individual at risk, but can impact everyone else on site too.

Although many skills can be, and indeed have to be, learnt vocationally within construction, appropriate safety training is something that must be implemented before anyone can be allowed to begin working on a construction site. Health and safety knowledge is also something that should be regularly refreshed to keep workers up to date with relevant industry changes, regulations and practices.

Communication and Management

While individual workers must take responsibility for their own on-site safety, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment for their employees, whilst also ensuring that health and safety procedures are followed correctly.

Accidents are more likely to occur when workers are unclear of the expectations placed upon them. Clear communication on a day to day basis will ensure that employees are fully informed of the risks they may face whilst working on a project, as well as keeping safety at the forefront of their minds.

“Ultimately, a strong safety culture must be developed from the top down.” British Safety Council’s Mike Robinson went on to say. “Construction firms, their management and supervisory teams all have a responsibility to make sure everyone on their site is aware of the health and safety regulations, but also that they are engaged with procedures and safeguarding themselves.”

Proper Equipment and Transparency

With falls from height, scaffold collapse and trench collapse cited as but a few of the many hazards faced by workers in construction, it’s no surprise that the industry comprises some of the most dangerous jobs in the UK economy. Add into that mix improper equipment, and a lack of knowledge of how to use it effectively, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Whether it’s as simple as ill-fitting head protection or not using the correct ladder for the task, or something as major as poorly erected scaffolding, ensuring that equipment is appropriate and fit for the job in hand is part of the basic foundation of keeping workers safe.

Equally, a lack of transparency around previous accidents and failing to learn from past mistakes leaves room for repeat error, injury and even fatalities. Ensuring that accidents are properly reported and dealt with not only creates a safer on-site environment, but also an industry wide one too.

Human error is a risk that may never be fully mitigated in any industry, let alone one with as many working dangers as construction. However, with constant improvement to safety procedures and training, as well as a healthy attitude to risk management from the top down, the construction industry can be a safer place for all those that work within it.

An article contributed by the British Safety Council

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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