Construction workers: How to keep safe and your rights if an accident occurs
The UK construction industry is of its nature built around flexibility. On any given site there will be numerous contractors and sub-contractors with employed and self-employed staff working side by side in an environment where hazards are constantly present.
Fortunately, construction activities are regulated in a manner that reflects this. The duties owed to construction workers under, for instance the Construction, Design and Management Regulations 2007 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005, do not use the language of employer and employee and recognise that duty holders are those with control over its sites, equipment and/or staff.
There is also a broad definition of construction work to include carrying any construction, alteration, conversion, repair, up keeping, redecoration, other maintenance or demolition and the Work at Height Regulations do not have any minimum height, and would include work undertaken below ground level or the risk caused by objects falling from height, for example.
Still a dangerous industry
According to the Health & Safety Executive, falls are the largest cause of accidental death in the construction industry, accounting for 50 percent of all fatalities.
As with all UK health and safety regulations pursuant to the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, the obligations imposed by law follow a hierarchy of control measures aimed to eliminate the risk at source, but where that is not possible, collective measures are favoured, and where the risk cannot be prevented, it has to be mitigated with reliance upon individual training and skills being the last resort.
Pursuant to the above approach, work at height should be avoided unless it is essential. Where it cannot be avoided, duty holders are obliged to prevent falls by using an existing safe place of work that does not require any additional work equipment to prevent a fall, or where that is not possible, use of appropriate access equipment, guard rails or mobile elevated work platforms (NEWP).
Individual personal protective equipment is the lowest form of preventative equipment in the hierarchy and beyond that the duty holders have a duty to mitigate falls by using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, and lastly to mitigate falls and the risk of falls through training, instruction and other means.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require that work at height is properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that is safe so far as reasonably practicable (Regulation 4). That suitable and sufficient measures are taken to prevent so far as reasonably practicable any person falling a distance likely to cause personal injury (Regulation 6(3)).
There are specific duties in relation to the selection and provision of work equipment in that it has to be a suitable type, with the use of ladders being seen as a last resort.
Duty holders are obliged to have a written risk assessment justifying the use of ladders over and above more suitable equipment for work at height and there are specific requirements in Schedule 6 to the Work at Height Regulations with regards to the use of ladders.
Failing to comply with these regulations constitutes a criminal offence under UK law and the Health & Safety Executive will enforce such breaches particularly in more serious cases.
What should you do if you are involved in a construction accident?
Fortunately the fatalistic view that work injuries and fatalities within the construction industry are inevitable is no longer as widely held as in the past.
There is now a vast array of protective and preventative measures that can be taken and a great deal of guidance on best practice available from HSE, through the internet and a safety culture which in its true form is an exact, absolutely essential prerequisite for workers in the construction industry within a civilised society.
Enforcement of Regulations by the state has a deterrent effect but when as the result of the negligent breach of regulations an accident occurs and construction workers are injured, they very quickly find that, particularly in the case of self-employed workers, recourse to effective legal remedies is absolutely essential.
If you are self-employed you will not be entitled to sick pay or to Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit.
It is essential that you promptly report any accident on the construction site and take note of the circumstances that may be disputed should your case be litigated.
It is worth keeping details of potential witness who may be able to provide witness evidence at a later stage if required and that you seek early medical attention.
We have dealt with numerous construction site accidents often involving very serious injuries.
These are characteristically denied by the various parties responsible who attempt to “pass the buck” between the various contractors and duty holders working at the site.
It is essential that you seek advice from an experienced firm of Solicitors who are used to dealing with the complexities of these cases to ensure that you have the best chance of recovering all of your lost earnings and compensation for your injuries.
About the author: John Carr is a Solicitor at Carrs Solicitors, a North West based practice that handles numerous cases involving construction workers throughout the UK.
The construction industry: Facing a mental health crisis
Data collected by the Office for National Statistics has shown that more than 2,000 construction workers took their own lives in 2017. Other findings from a study conducted by the Glasgow Caledonian University show that the problem is getting worse. From 2017 to 2019, the number of suicides per 100,000 rose from 26 to 29, with people in the construction industry three times more likely to take their own lives in 2019 compared to other industries.
Why is the construction industry experiencing a rise in mental health conditions?
Bill Hill, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Lighthouse Club, says that one reason for the rise in mental health conditions is due to financial pressure. He said that it is a “huge factor” in construction, “causing stress, depression, and anxiety”. He added that several self-employed workers are “brilliant tradespeople but don’t have the education”, which may be helpful in running their business.
“They win a project, someone pays them a big invoice but they don’t put money aside for VAT [and then] the taxman asks for payment so they get finance. It tumbles from there. Sole trader-style business management should be taught at apprenticeship level”, Hill said.
According to Lighthouse Club, the industry is “hugely fragmented” and “difficult to reach over half of the 2.8mn self-employed construction workers. “Some larger companies have done a fantastic job on mental health”, Hill says. “But only apply their programmes and workshops to their own staff. Until you get to the huge mass of very capable tradespeople who are getting no input, one of the biggest problems is awareness”.
How can awareness of mental health be improved in the construction industry?
Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, Graham Watts, says that the industry has made positive steps forward on mental wellbeing but that “it is still not doing nearly enough” to support staff in this area.
Looking at how awareness of mental health can be improved in the industry today, Watts said: “Today, I would hope it is easier to be more open about mental health. I’m impressed by the leadership that is being shown by some companies – for example, Tideway, where Chief Executive Andy Mitchell has ‘mental health first aider’ immediately after his email sign-off – but it is still only being exhibited by the best of the best”.
Lighthouse club has also launched a campaign for construction workers to raise more awareness of mental health in the industry. Named “Help Inside the Hard Hat”, the campaign makes all workers aware of the services that Lighthouse Club offers, “regardless of employment status”, the charity says. Lighthouse Club is taking particular care to encourage contractors to put up posters on sites and ensure that they reach all workers, including the self-employed.
The charity also has a free app that allows workers to access mental health information and resources. Lighthouse Club is also improving the availability of information by working with partners such as the Safer Highways charity and Glasgow Caledonian University. But the charity is working on improving the understanding and destigmatisation of mental health in the industry one step at a time. Hill said: “The first thing is suicides,” says Hill. “That is the number one benchmark of all the work we are doing – are we reducing suicides in the industry?”.
If you are a construction worker - or someone you know is and you need support, you can call the Lighthouse Club helpline on 0345 605 1956.