Assure 360

Construction industry accidents – no room for complacency

Written by Nick Garland on 15/10/2020
 

Back at the start of July the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released its annual accident statistics, covering 2019 / 2020. Among these, as always, are figures detailing the worst case situation – people who die while at work.

The headline figure is encouraging. Over the period, 111 workers were killed – a significant decrease on previous years. Over the previous period 149 workers had lost their lives, and the average over the past five years was 137.

While this is clearly good news, the figures have – like so much else – been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Economic activity dipped in February and March – alarmingly in many sectors – so some reduction in injuries was to be expected. Those of you who work on construction sites will know they were eerily quiet at the end of Q1, only recovering near to full speed toward the end of the lockdown.

Our own Assure360 figures back up that impression, with a drop on year-on-year audits. In the past 12 months, 1,790 audits have been completed, whereas in the previous 12 months it was 2,048. That’s a 13% drop, against a background of rising subscriber numbers through the year, with most of the reduced activity seen between March and June. Thankfully we are now back to more normal rates, indicating that at least with Assure360 users, we are seeing some recovery.

How dangerous is construction?

If we go back to the HSE figures, we can drill down a bit to get more detail on how this year compares to last:

Sector Fatalities 19/20 Fatalities 18/19 5yr average (19/20)
Construction 40 30 37
Agriculture 20 32 27
Manufacturing 15 26 20
Transport 11 16 14
Wholesale and retail 6 18 9
Waste and recycling 5 7 9
Administration and support 6 10 4
Other 8 10
Total 111 149

 

As you can see, all sectors saw the drop that you might expect against a backdrop of reduced activity – with the exception of construction, which instead experienced a 33% rise in fatalities. The obvious question is, “Why?”

The HSE’s report points out that “in statistical terms, [the] numbers are small and subject to fluctuation”, but construction still looks like an outlier.

Superficially, things look more encouraging for the sector if you examine the fatality rates expressed per 100,000 workers. When viewed this way, we can see that agriculture and waste are significantly more hazardous industries. But again, construction is the only sector showing an increase.

Sector Fatalities per 100,000 (19/20) Fatalities per 100,000 (18/19)
Agriculture 5.96 9.21
Waste and recycling 4.57 6.05
Construction 1.74 1.31
Transport 0.69 1.00
Manufacturing 0.52 0.92
Administration and support 0.38 0.62
Wholesale and retail 0.10 0.31

 

The per-sector view makes it clear that the agriculture and waste industries face serious safety challenges. Construction is inherently hazardous, too, but effective legislation such as the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) ensures we have tightly controlled working procedures. Even so, that’s cold comfort when the normalised rates above confirm that the increase in fatalities isn’t down to an increase in workers. The hard truth is that we just failed to keep our people as safe as in previous years.

What’s killing construction workers?

Look at the detail of the HSE figures and we see that working at height and related issues (for example, dropped objects) are by far the biggest killer – they make up 42% of all fatalities. While we can’t identify from the report how many of these deaths are in the construction and asbestos industries, height is clearly a hazard we encounter frequently.

Interestingly, there’s been a small increase over the 18/19 figures, where height-related incidents were a factor in 38% of fatalities. Perhaps this is an indicator of where we may be going wrong. Is the sector as a whole taking its eye off its most significant risk?

Again, we can shed further light on the HSE figures by examining our own. Assure360’s community-based approach to health and safety means that our users benefit from aggregated figures recorded across all auditing and near-miss reporting on our system.

Auditing and near-miss reporting have always been the traditional methods we use to identify and mitigate safety issues. So what does our data tell us about height-related non-conformance?

Question Text 18-19 19-20 % Difference
RA (Height) 27 8 -70%
Tied (scaffold) 23 13 -43%
Double hand rails (scaffold) 22 8 -64%
Scaffold (Fans) 18 6 -67%
Safe access between lifts 16 11 -31%
Inspection (Scaffold) 13 8 -38%
Scaffold (Design) 13 14 8%
Scaffold (Gates/hatches) 12 4 -67%
Ladders / Hop Ups (Suitable) 9 3 -67%
Scaffold (Boards) 8 12 50%
Scaffold (Matches Design) 7 6 -14%
Scaffold changed by site team 5 4 -20%
Inspected (ladder & podium) 4 2 -50%
Scaffold (Condition) 4 5 25%
Double hand rails (tower) 3 2 -33%
Ladders in use (where podiums could be) 3 2 -33%
Ledger Bracing 2 0 -100%
Inspection (Tower) 2 2 0%
Ladder & Podium (condition) 1 0 -100%
Lifting Plan (method) 1 0 -100%
Training (Height) 1 0 -100%
Trip Hazards (scaffold) 1 0 -100%
Work at Height (rescue plan) 1 0 -100%
Tower (condition) 0 1 100%
Unprotected openings (scaffold) 0 1 100%
Total 196 112 -43%
AUDITS 2048 1790 -13%

In fact, it reveals that observed height related nonconformances among our users have gone down dramatically, from 196 to 112 in year-on-year comparison. That’s a 43% drop in observed issues, whereas (as we covered earlier) the number of audits fell by only 13% during the same period.

That means one of two things. Either Assure360’s users are bucking the apparent trend in the industry, and fewer height-related issues are there to be seen. Of course, that would be great, but the figures could instead show that – perhaps like the wider industry – we’re not looking hard enough at this area.

This is the age-old problem of auditing: no matter how good you are, there’s always the chance of blind spots. And, as the circumstances behind some of the annual fatalities would doubtless reveal, being ignorant of this can be catastrophic.

Stay safe

Historically the UK has been the best in the world at bringing people home safely from work. This is absolutely an achievement to be proud of, but these figures remind us that safety is something we must all work at. Especially in high-risk industries, we can never be complacent. As health and safety professionals we should be redoubling our efforts to give workers the protection they deserve.

And if you can, it’s best to learn from other people’s lessons as well as your own. One advantage that Assure360 can offer its users is that they don’t have to wait for annual HSE reports to see what is happening in the industry – our shared benchmarked data is available 24/7.

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