Construction fatalities 2016/17: Full breakdown

by Alex on August 24, 2017

Construction Site Fatalities

Between April 2016 and March 2017, 137 people were killed at work in the UK. Construction accounted for nearly 22% of those deaths with 30 onsite fatalities, the highest from an individual industry in the past year.

Taken at face value, that figure alone will be enough for people operating within the sector to question their safety at work, but when we look more closely, vital trends begin to emerge.

A deep dive into the SICs

The Standard Industry Classifications (SICs) for the deaths recorded during that time tell their own story.

The most common environment for fatalities was within the construction of commercial buildings, where seven people died in total – most of them employees.

This appears to tally with the types of deaths recorded, too. The most common cause of fatal accident related to falls from height, with most incidents of that nature being attributed to building construction.

With work of this kind a complex affair featuring numerous disciplines and their associated risks, these figures shouldn’t come as a surprise. Joining falls from height were deaths by vehicle and incidents where workers came into contact with stationary objects.

The second most common industry classification was specialised construction, which involves activities like demolition, site preparation, test drilling and boring, plastering, roofing activities etc. Specialised construction activities tragically witnessed five deaths.

Tellingly, the deaths were more varied, with incidents involving stationary objects being joined by overturning vehicles, electricity, flying objects and explosions.

The nature of specialised construction activities, unfortunately, makes a variety of fatalities likely, and the fact that the vast majority last year resulted in employee deaths may point to a lack of focus or investment on internal risk assessment.

The people behind the numbers

Reviewing statistics of this nature is a depressing affair, and while the Health and Safety Executive’s detailed list of work-related fatalities adds names to the deaths exposed, the split between employee, self-employed and public incidents is telling.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, employee deaths were overwhelmingly the most common, with 67% pertaining to people directly employed by the company in question.

Employee deaths were most notable in commercial building construction and specialised construction, but similar incidents involving members of staff were also reported in domestic building work, motorway construction, concrete manufacturing and scaffolding.

Deaths of self-employed workers were consigned mainly to trades such as painting, roofing and domestic building construction, with the latter also featuring the highest number of public deaths.

In 2012, the clamour for construction firms to switch from full-time employees to subcontractors resulted in an increasing number of workers operating on a self-employed model, therefore the prevalence of deaths relating to those people sadly comes as little surprise.

While domestic building construction featured the largest number of self-employed deaths, such workers were also fatally impacted across a range of SICs, from civil engineering projects to electrical engineering.

The takeaway

It’s fair to assume from these unpalatable figures that there are varying degrees to which health and safety is adhered, depending on the type of worker manning the tools and the proximity of the public.

Whether it’s down to a lack of discipline, negligence on behalf of self-employed workers or poor internal communication within businesses that largely employee full-time staff is open to debate.

Despite thirty deaths being the lowest on record in construction, and down from 47, it’s still a lot of on-site deaths in such a short period of time, and with seemingly no specific demographic adversely affected (72% of the total deaths recorded were 16- to 59-year-olds), the focus clearly needs to be on widening the effectiveness of risk assessments and method statements within the workplace.

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