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Last edited 31 May 2019
Construction health risks
Despite big improvements, construction still poses significant health risks to those who work in it. As an industry it accounts for a significant percentage of fatal and major injuries, from falling from height, equipment-related accidents and so on. It also poses many general risks to health.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that around 4% of construction workers suffer from a work-related illness every year, and 3% sustain a work-related injury. This results in around 2.2 million working days being lost each year. However, the industry has tended to focus attention on the immediate risks of harm rather than the factors that can have a cumulative impact over time.
Statistics show that those who work in construction have a high risk of developing cancer, accounting for more than 40% of occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations. On an annual basis, past exposures from construction work are estimated to cause 3,700 deaths from occupational cancer. The most significant causes of these cancers are:
There are a wide range of other potential risks:
- Hazardous substances are common in construction work and can cause breathing problems, lung diseases, dermatitis and so on. For more information, see hazardous substances.
- Physical health risks are prevalent in construction, particularly back injuries and upper limb problems, often as a result of repetitive motion.
- Excessive noise from power tools can lead to hearing loss or problems such as tinnitus.
- Vibration from power tools can cause nerve and tendon damage to hands, arms and wrists, such as hand-arm vibration syndrome.
- Heat stress can cause brain, heart or kidney damage, and in extreme cases even death.
- Mental health problems among construction workers are the third most common reason for workplace absences from contractor organisations. There have been several initiatives, such as the Building Site to Boardroom (BS2B) scheme to address these ‘unspoken’ issues. The Samaritans have reported that construction workers are six times more likely to die of suicide than from a fall.
- The site environment can be less controlled than an industrial environment such as a factory.
- It is more dynamic, in that sites are constantly changing with a large number of different activities and trades operating simultaneously.
- Work teams, such as subcontractors, may have their own safety culture which may vary from others or from the site in general.
For more information, see 'health and safety for building design and construction'.
They include general requirements that apply to all projects and additional duties that apply to notifiable construction projects (where the construction work is likely to last longer than 30 working days and has more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any point in the project, or exceeds 500 person days).
For more information see: CDM.
There is also a legal requirement through the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) for a responsible person (employers, the self-employed and individuals in control of work premises) to notify and keep records of specified workplace incidents.
For more information see: RIDDOR.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Competent person.
- Construction dust.
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH).
- Hand-arm vibration syndrome.
- Hazardous substances.
- Health and safety for building design and construction.
- Injuries on construction sites.
- Manual handling.
- Near miss.
- Personal protective equipment.
- Risk assessment.
- Safety management.
- Workplace exposure limits.
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