Last edited 02 Aug 2018

Construction health risks

Despite big improvements, construction remains poses significant health risks to those who work in it. As an industry it accounts for a high percentage of fatal and major injuries, from things such as falling from height and equipment-related accidents, but it also poses many general risks to health.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate 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 as follows:

  • Asbestos (70%).
  • Silica (17%).
  • Paint (6-7%).
  • Diesel engine exhaust (6-7%).

There are a wide range of other potential risks:

The reasons why construction workers face a high risk of occupational ill health are varied, including:

  • The site environment can be less controlled than an industrial environment like 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, can come with their own safety culture which may vary from others or the site in general.

The legislation affecting health and safety in design and construction falls under the Health and Safety at Work etc.

For more information, see Health and safety for building design and construction.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM regulations) in particular are intended to ensure that health and safety issues are properly considered during a project’s development.

They include general requirements that apply to all projects and additional duties that only apply to notifiable construction projects (where the construction work is likely to last longer than 30 working days and have more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any point in the project, or exceed 500 person days). For more information see: CDM.

There is 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.

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