The obvious and most negative consequence of construction accidents is of course the sometimes terrible injuries that workers suffer. Multiple fractures of major bones, brain injuries, extensive burns, permanently damaged hearts due to electrocution, extensive damage to internal organs as a result of crushing injuries and nerve damage from conditions such as vibration white finger are amongst a list of injuries too varied and long to include here and which are all unfortunately still far from uncommon in the construction industry. Inevitably and tragically some of these injuries can prove fatal; in fact construction accidents accounted for a staggering 28% of all workplace deaths in the UK during the year 2011-2012.
If there can be a positive aspect to the grim statistics detailing death and injury from construction accidents, it is that each fatality and injury serves to highlight, in many cases, the negligence of employers in failing to comply with their legal duty to provide a safe workplace and ensure as far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work. From these instances of negligence hard lessons can be learnt and the deterrent factor of ever increasing insurance costs and tarnished company reputations in the wake of unsuccessfully defended work injury compensation claims, weighed by construction companies against the morally unjustifiable benefits to be gained by skimping on health and safety in order to be able to undercut rival bids for construction projects or simply sinking back into a comfort zone of paying lip service to health and safety.
On the evidence of the Health and Safety Executive’s data on accidents in the construction industry over the last couple of decades, lessons are indeed being learnt and the gradual reduction in deaths and serious injuries since the 1990s seems to reflect a more positive and pro-active approach to health and safety amongst companies working in the sector. However the numbers are still high compared to other sectors and whilst they remain so, the previously engrained misconception within the construction industry that the toll in human life and health is an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of the type of work being undertaken will stubbornly persist.
Only increasingly proficient project planning, the elevation of health and safety above a merely paper exercise and the will to expunge the pockets of bad practice historically found in areas such as staff recruitment and training, workplace safety, personal protective equipment and the culture of long hours and bonus inducements, will continue the downwards trend in workplace fatality and injury rates.
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