Latest HSE statistics: Work-related ill health rises sharply Construction Safety Group BSG comments

30th October 2016

BSG (Building Safety Group), the UK’s largest construction safety group, issues comment on the on HSE construction industry annual statistics as ill health in construction rises sharply.

The latest construction sector statistics have been published by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Despite a drop in fatalities, falls from height still remain the single biggest cause of fatalities on construction sites and in the workplace.  They also accounted for 5,956 non-fatal injuries over the 12 month period to 31 March 2016.  According to HSE, three-quarters of fatal injuries in 2015/16 were accounted for by accidents.  The worker fatal injury rate in the ‘Construction sector (1.62 per 100,000 workers) is over 3.5 times the average rate across all industries (0.46 per 100,000 workers).  Almost half of the fatal injury cases were caused by fall from heights.  There were 35 fatal injuries to workers in the Construction sector in 2014/15, around 20% lower than the five year average for 2010/11-2014/15 which was 43.  This brings the total number of fatal injuries to workers in the sector over the last five years to 217.

Every year, in workplaces across Britain, people are injured or suffer illness in the course of their work.  The rate of illness across all industries in 2015–16 was 4050 per 100,000 workers, a five year high.

An immediate impact of workplace injury and work-related illness (aside from the human suffering) is the impact on business in terms of lost working time due to sickness absence. In 2014/15 an estimated 1.7 million working days (full-day equivalent) were lost in the Construction sector due to workplace injury (0.5 million) and work-related illness (1.2 million).  That is the equivalent of 0.8 working days lost per worker, broadly similar to the average days lost per worker across all industries (0.9 days). Assuming a full-time working year equates to 225 working days, this is equivalent to around 7,000 full-time workers being absent from the workforce for the whole year in the Construction sector in 2014/15 Between 2007/08 and 2014/15.

Annually, around 3,000 workers in the Construction sector were suffering with ‘breathing and lung problems’ they believed were caused or made worse by their work, equivalent to 0.14% of workers in the sector.  This rate is statistically significantly higher than the rate for workers across all industries (0.08%) When asked about exposures contributing to their illness conditions, almost 20% of workers reporting work -related respiratory problems identified ‘dusts from stone, cement, bricks or concrete’ as contributing to their condition. These exposures are often associated with construction. (Source: Labour Forces Survey 2009/10-2011/12).

The figures show that six people die of asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma every day in England and Wales.  The most affected area has more than two and a half times the rate of deaths than the national average, with 11.57 deaths for each 100,000 of the population.  The average rate for England is 4.51. In the past ten years, the number of deaths from mesothelioma has rocketed by nearly a third. The number of deaths is expected to peak in 2018. Construction workers and associated tradespeople are a high-risk group for asbestos exposure.

Chris Chapman, Technical Support Manager for the Building Safety Group commented on the recent statistics:

It is well known that only 2% of construction fatalities are from accidents, whilst 98% are from work related disease.  More effort should be directed to reducing the level of work-related illness in the construction sector, particularly since a construction worker is over 100 times more likely to die from a disease which may be related to their work, as they are to be involved in a fatal accident. (More here.).  These situations are all totally preventable.  The industry tends to shout “safety” and whisper “health”.  With accidents, we can reduce the risks ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’, but when it comes to health and disease, we must eliminate the risks to health.

Injuries caused by accidents can be counted more easily, such as a fall from height or a plant collapse. Accidents are usually visible, whereas the complications surrounding cause due to the latency periods on asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, is often less clear-cut.   Still, 2,500 mesothelioma deaths in 2014 make it the number one work-related cancer in the UK.

Reductions in occupational disease in construction have also not kept pace with improvements in safety management. It is estimated that approximately 100 times as many people lose their lives from ill-health caused by working in construction compared to fatal accidents, so it is not surprising that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has made ‘Occupational Health’ a focal point, with site blitzes expected to continue. It also explains why the HSE is encouraging companies to work in partnership with organisations like the Building Safety Group (BSG) to help improve Occupational Health in the workplace.

The Building Safety Group are running a Seminar ‘Managing Occupational Health for your Construction Business’ on December 8th BSG’s seminar will examine how construction companies can improve Occupational Health Management (OHM) in their business and the actions which should be taken to:

  • Reduce the costs of managing ill health within your organisation
  • Reduce sickness absence
  • Prevent and remove health risks arising in the workplace, ensuring your business meets its statutory responsibilities and helping your business maintain a healthy workforce
  • Find a local OH provider which is best equipped to support your business needs
  • Work with your OH Provider to ensure that the appropriate screening and surveillance services are set up when early stages of ill health arise
  • Provide lifestyle and wellbeing advice to staff which can increase productivity and staff retention
  • Develop solutions to keep employees with health issues at work

To register for BSG’s Occupational Health seminar, send your full contact details to

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