Construction site safety: top risks and tips

Health and safety is an important consideration in any sector. Though in construction particularly, health and safety is especially critical. Accidents on construction sites can be a matter of life and death, with workers exposed to many hazards and risks if the right safety measures are not put in place.

It is essential that workers are protected with effective safety measures. From using the appropriate safety equipment, to ensuring safety strategies and training are in place.

This guide provides insight into the possible risks associated with construction sites, and the appropriate measures to reduce them.

The importance of construction site safety

Working on construction sites can come with many risks in comparison to other professions. There are several factors that make health and safety risks particularly salient on building sites. Moving vehicles, open excavations, working from heights and operating machinery can all pose potential risks to workers on site, among many other hazards.

Keeping construction workers out of harm’s way is crucial. Companies must ensure that the correct health and safety measures are in place as a precaution to protect workers on site. Health and safety should be at the heart of everything they do - from training, operations and procedures.

Construction site safety management should be an ongoing process, whereby companies continually assess health and safety procedures and compliance with legislation. 

Construction site injury statistics

To get an idea of just how serious construction site safety is, let’s take a look at some facts and figures according to the HSE.

In 2020/21, the construction industry saw an average of:

  • 61,000 non-fatal injuries
  • 39 fatal injuries

Non-fatal injuries

Non-fatal injuries on construction sites are significantly less common than fatal injuries. The top reason for non-fatal industry in construction over the 2020/21 period was due to slips, trips or falls on level surfaces, accounting for 26% of the total reported reasons.

The second most common reason was reported as injuries occurred while handling, lifting or carrying equipment and materials, which occurred at the same rate as non-fatal falls from a height.

Fatal injuries

50% of fatal injuries over the 2020/21 period occurred as a result of falling from a height. Following this, the second most common reason for fatal injury on site was workers being trapped by something that had collapsed or overturned. Thirdly, workers being struck by a moving or falling object was reported as the next most common cause of fatality.

Health and safety risks on construction sites

Construction sites are full of potential safety risks that, if not controlled, could result in injury or death. Here’s an overview of the many types of risk.

Working at heights

As the leading cause of fatal injuries on site, and the second most common cause of non-fatal injury, falling from heights poses one of the most significant risks on construction sites.

Working at heights cannot be avoided. For instance, the construction of buildings and demolition works often require personnel to work at heights. This risk can be more hazardous in cases where there is limited mobility or access. 

Training, and the right equipment, is essential for workers required to work at heights in construction. For instance, our excavation fall arrest and rescue system is designed to allow full freedom of movement, with 360° fall protection and rescue capability.

Moving objects and vehicles

Construction sites are no stranger to moving hazards. Sites are frequently busy with moving vehicles, tradespeople and construction equipment, with lots of overhead lifting and manoeuvring going on.

When not managed and monitored properly, there are many moving parts on construction sites that can lead to injury or death. Additionally, equipment and vehicles are often operated on uneven or unstable terrains, increasing the risk of tripping, slipping or falling.

This makes ground movement monitoring an extremely important consideration.

Accounting for 11% of fatal injuries on construction sites in 2020/21, it’s vital to ensure that there are appropriate safety measures in place to minimise the risk of moving or falling objects.

Excavation collapses

With the Building Safety Group (BSG) reporting a 16% rise in excavation work breaches, it’s a harsh reminder to the construction industry that the consequences of a trench collapse can be devastating.

"BSG’s figure is based on approximately 11,000 independent inspections conducted for the construction industry over a six month period, comparing Q3 with Q4 in 2017.

Injuries resulting from excavation trench collapses can often be severe and at times fatal. Last year, the director of a housing development company, Conquest Homes, was jailed for gross negligence manslaughter after a groundworker was crushed to death in a building site trench. 

Another company undertaking excavation work was fined for safety breaches when a worker was burned after striking underground electrical cables. Mason Construction (London) Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 13(1) of CDM regulations 2015 and was fined £25,000".

Noise levels

Noise levels are not only a nuisance to workers, they are also a health risk. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels on construction sites can result in damage to hearing, with the HSE reporting occupational deafness as a condition associated with construction work.

There are many aspects of construction that involve loud noise levels. From vehicles, power tools, equipment and more. Some activities generate particularly damaging noise levels, such as concrete saws and electric grinders.

Under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005), workers must be provided with hearing protection in working environments where noise levels exceed 85dB - making noise monitoring a must.

Harmful materials

Harmful materials pose fewer risks to construction workers than they did in the past, though there are still instances where harmful materials are considered a hazard. Historically, asbestos was used widely in 20th century building construction, presenting a hazard in many buildings being demolished in more recent times.

Asbestos is mostly harmless if it is left undisturbed, although it can present serious health risks if particles are disturbed. It is also common for workers to be exposed to potentially harmful chemicals, such as paints and gases that may cause respiratory problems without the appropriate ventilation safety measures. 

Musculoskeletal conditions

According to the HSE, there are an estimated 40,000 cases of musculoskeletal conditions amongst workers in the construction industry, accounting for 54% of all health conditions in this sector.

Musculoskeletal conditions (MSDs) commonly arise as a result of prolonged handheld machinery use, causing repetitive strain injuries. For instance, using a for a long period of time.

MSDs are so common in construction workers as it is often a requirement to use hand and power tools, as well as work in uncomfortable positions. Construction work can involve forceful movements in the back and lower body, with lots of manoeuvring involved.

How to improve construction site health and safety

Health and safety has improved across almost every sector in recent times, with a greater emphasis on employee health and wellbeing in the workplace. In construction especially, there is a greater need to protect workers from the many safety risks on building sites.

Here is an overview of how organisations can improve construction site safety.

Health and safety strategy

Before any construction project, it is vital to have a health and safety strategy in place. The health and safety strategy should outline all the possible risks associated with the project, and consider how these will be managed.

It is also beneficial for workers to view the health and safety strategy before the work begins, ensuring that all personnel are made aware of the potential risks, how they are managed, and how to act if an accident occurs. 

On larger projects, all management and supervision staff should agree on the standards set out in the health and safety strategy, ensuring the risk assessments, methods and solutions are consistent. Making the health and safety strategy accessible to the entire workforce will also help raise awareness of health and safety on construction sites, emphasising the importance of monitoring and managing risks.

As temporary works specialists, we identify potential risks and hazards as part of any temporary works design.

Train site personnel

As well as raising awareness of safety risks amongst the workforce, it is important to train workers on how to act in the event of an accident or hazard. There is a lot of important information for workers to take in during initial health and safety inductions - this training should be reinforced by continued support. 

Additional health and safety training can qualify site workers to carry out on-site safety and assist with delegating tasks and share knowledge with the rest of the team. 

Safety training is also a great way to ensure that workers feel valued and protected in the workplace, as well as improve skills across the workforce.

Use safety equipment

One of the most effective ways to minimise safety risks is to use safety equipment on site. Equipment is used to keep workers safe in a variety of situations. For instance, trench boxes are used to prevent excavations from caving in, and ground protection mats help keep the ground more level for moving vehicles.

Additionally, edge protection and fall arrest systems can be used to protect workers from falling from heights - a leading cause of fatal injury on construction sites. 

Explore our full excavation safety equipment range.

Don’t take chances with your site safety and personnel

We have a comprehensive range of trench boxes for small shoring applications through to excavation bracing systems for large-scale construction works, as well as a host of related safety products.  

We also provide structural and environmental monitoring solutions, offering even greater site assurance.

Speak to us today to see how our modern and approved groundworks support systems can keep your site safe.

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