Health & Safety Executive planning new safety campaign after grim stats show rise in fatalities

The construction sector continues to see more deaths than any other industrial sector in the UK with the majority of fatalities occurring on small jobs, official statistics have confirmed.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) final statistics for the year 2010-11 confirmed that 50 workers were killed in the construction industry over the year to March 2011 – the highest number of deaths of any industrial sector – and an increase on the previous year, when 41 died.

The last time there was an increase in fatalities was in 2007 when 79 workers were killed on construction sites across the country.

The rate of fatal injury also increased to 2.4 per 100,000 workers compared with 1.9 per 100,000 workers in 2009/10. This compares with an average rate of 2.8 for the previous five years.

Construction deaths made up around 29% of all workplace fatalities over the period, which is broadly in line with previous years.

The most common form of fatal accidents were caused by a collapse and falls from a height (both 26%), being hit by a moving vehicle (16%) and being hit by a moving or falling object (12%).

The figures also revealed the regional breakdown of fatalities, with the East of England, with ten deaths, and Greater London, with eight deaths, the highest. Both Scotland and the South-west had the lowest level, both recording just one fatality.

Philip White, HSE’s chief construction inspector, said around 70% of the fatalities occurred on small construction sites, with half the deaths occurring on refurbishment projects, including roof maintenance.

He said that while the big construction companies had shown steady improvements in health and safety over the last decade, smaller firms needed to catch up.

“The majority of deaths continue to be on small construction sites. This is not about money it’s about planning jobs properly, thinking before you act and making sure people have the right training and equipment. It’s not rocket science.”

He said the HSE would now refocus its efforts on getting small firms to prioritise health and safety issues, with a new campaign in February and March involving unannounced inspections of small construction sites. “We are going to be looking at new ways to get the message across to small businesses,” he said.

However, the construction sector has continued to reduce the number of injuries sustained by workers, with major injuries falling from 3,145 to 2,857 and the number of over-three-day injuries falling from 6,239 to 5,328.

Construction union UCATT said it was worrying that the number of deaths had increased, despite the down turn in the sector.

George Guy, UCATT’s acting general secretary said: “Every workplace fatality is one too many. It is incomprehensible that well into the 21st century such a large number of workers don’t return home at the end of the working day following an unnecessary accident, leaving behind devastated family and friends”.