Slips, trips, and falls are the leading cause of injuries on UK construction sites. While it is easy to think of them as minor incidents, serious falls especially can end in fatalities. The construction industry as a whole continues to lead accident statistics kept by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Implementing strong safety precautions and preparing crews to deliver effective first aid for slips, trips, and falls not only allows contractors to keep their teams safe. It can turn little-known construction companies into industry leaders. Read on to find out about causes and preventative measures to help your business create a safer, healthier, industry-leading workplace.
The Importance of Safety Precautions on Construction Sites
It is hard to overstate the importance of increasing safety on construction sites across the UK and worldwide. The construction industry continues to lead the fatality statistics of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) system. According to RIDDOR, 30 workers died on British construction sites during the 2021/22 reporting period, putting the industry more than 25% ahead of the agricultural, forestry, and fishing industries.
Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirm that the problem is not specific to the United Kingdom. In both countries, falls from height are the leading cause of fatalities. While the numbers are sobering, they also show the industry where to start making improvements.
By putting in place effective safety precautions, construction contractors can deliver projects on time and within budget. They can also save lives.
Understanding the Risks: Common Causes of Falls and Slips on Construction Sites
Picture any construction site – no matter whether you are envisaging a single private home being built or a multi-million-dollar high rise, there will be a few similarities that can predispose workers to accidents. The UK HSE has published data listing the main causes of falls and slips. Most of these causes can be found across construction sites everywhere:
- Obstacles, for example from building materials or tools
- Trailing cables
- Unexpected changes in floor levels
- Uneven surfaces
- Slippery surfaces
These causes lead to thousands of injuries every year, and contractors may not be able to eliminate all of them. However, by starting to implement stronger safety measures the entire industry can work toward protecting workers and building a more safety-oriented culture that reaches beyond individual companies.
Common Injuries from Falls and Slips on Construction Sites
Thankfully, not all slips and falls on construction sites result in fatalities. The Health and Safety Executive reports that out of several thousand annual injuries on construction sites, approximately 1,000 cause fractured bones and dislocated joints.
Those may not be life-changing injuries, but most require a hospital visit or hospital stay while some may also require surgery. When slips and falls happen from greater heights, they can lead to more serious injuries such as traumatic brain injuries and spinal injuries.
In a best-case scenario, companies lose the worker for several days, which may lead to project delays when key personnel are injured. In most cases, though, workers may be unable to return to their job for several weeks. More serious injuries may even require months of rehabilitation, with recovery not being guaranteed.
These figures make it plain just how important it is that the industry comes together in improving safety precautions on construction sites.
Essential Safety Measures to Prevent Falls and Slips
To identify the most effective safety measures for their job sites, construction contractors need to start by analyzing the main sources of accidents on their sites. Aside from the causes listed above, defective machinery or incorrectly operated equipment can become just as dangerous.
Once contractors understand the biggest dangers for their teams, they can start developing effective safety measures.
- Equipment-based dangers: it should go without saying that any machinery on construction sites should be kept well-maintained and in good working order. In addition, specialist equipment should only be operated by properly trained personnel. These rules sound almost too obvious, but it becomes easy to break them when there is pressure from deadlines or essential workers are unavailable. Construction companies need to ensure they have backup plans for these cases.
- Uneven, slippery, and multi-level surfaces: contractors will struggle to eliminate potential dangers from uneven surfaces. As projects progress, it is not always possible to ensure floors are entirely even in the process. Issuing high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE), including suitable boots can be beneficial. Posting warning signs adds an additional layer of safety, as does ensuring crews are fully staffed and not overworked.
- Accidents involving heights: falls from height remain the biggest cause of accidents in the construction industry. Encouraging measures like wearing safety harnesses and installing secure scaffolding can increase the safety of workers on-site. Project leaders also need to encourage responsible handling of equipment and materials used at great heights. Warning signs, hard hats, and cordoning off areas where there is a risk of falling materials and equipment can all contribute toward improved safety on construction sites.
Safety measures involve staff training in effective first aid and other emergency procedures. In addition, construction crews also need to have access to industry-specific first aid kits to deal with potential incidents and offer basic assistance until emergency medical services can take over.
Preventing Future Incidents by Implementing a Strong Safety Culture and Focusing on Continuous Improvement
Specific safety measures can take construction companies far in their quest to better protect employees and create safer construction sites. However, the most powerful change companies can make is to their overall culture.
Putting safety at the heart of everything the company does, from operational goals to hiring practices, can lead to long-term change across the entire industry. Building a safety-focused culture goes beyond formulating policies and procedures. To ensure these policies and procedures are adhered to every day, employees at all levels need to understand their importance and the need to engage with them.
In addition, everyone from the company’s leadership team to temporary laborers needs to strive for continuous improvement in relation to safety. That means speaking up when safety measures are set aside and making suggestions that help the company become even more of a leader in its field. By putting safety first, contractors can change the track record of their industry and stand out from their competitors to grow their own businesses.
Steven John Cumper, B.App.Sc. (Osteo.), M.Ost., is a businessman with a strong background in biomedical science and osteopathic medicine. He founded Medshop while studying at RMIT University in Australia, expanding its reach to markets in Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Malaysia. In September 2021, the Bunzl Group acquired a majority stake in Medshop, but Cumper remains involved as the Managing Director (Medshop Group). His journey from Zimbabwe to the UK and Australia reflects his dedication to academia and entrepreneurship, combining diverse knowledge and experience.