Not all construction deaths are created equal

The Health and Safety Executive last week released its fatal accident statistics for the year to March 2022. Those stats made for interesting , troubling and perplexing reading.

The headline figure was that worker deaths in the combined demolition and construction sector were down 25 percent on the previous year.

But the latest HSE figures prove way more than that. They prove that demolition and construction remain one of the deadliest industry sectors, accounting for a quarter of all workplace fatalities during the year. They prove that while a 25 percent reduction on site deaths is to be welcomed, that still left 30 working men and women that gave their lives in service to this industry. And it proved that not all deaths are created equal.

Deaths from asbestos-related Mesothelioma (2,544 in 2020) were separated from the industry main industry stats, as if these were somehow different; unavoidable; lesser. While the HSE’s Chief Executive Sarah Albon said: “We are committed to making workplaces safer and holding employers to account for their actions, as part of our mission to protect people and places,” there seems to be an acceptance that asbestos-related deaths just need to run their course. According to the HSE statement: “Current mesothelioma deaths reflect exposure to asbestos that mainly occurred before the 1980s and annual deaths are expected to decline during the next decade.”

At least asbestos-related deaths merited a mention. That was not the case for two significant causes of demolition and construction worker deaths that were bypassed and overlooked entirely, even though they are key areas of concern right now.

There is no mention in the HSE figures of fatal accidents caused – directly or otherwise – by the presence of alcohol or drugs. We know that both are showing up increasingly during on-site screening. But until we understand just how these might contribute to fatal and non-fatal accidents, we are working under a possibly (probably) false assumption that they are not a root cause of at least some incidents.

Equally, the HSE figures made absolutely no mention of the alarming rate of suicide among (mostly male) demolition and construction workers. According to the Office for National Statistics more than 1,400 construction workers committed suicide in the UK between 2011 and 2017 – more than three times the national average for men. Recent figures from industry charity The Lighthouse Club suggest that construction workers are taking their own loves at a rate of more than one per day (454 per year).

So apparently, 30 site deaths caused by accidents is an area that requires focus and further action. 84 times more people died as a result of asbestos-related illness, but the hope, apparently, is that those deaths will just peter out on their own.

As for deaths by suicide, they might be occurring at a rate that is 15 times higher than deaths by accident, but they don’t even merit a mention.

All industry deaths are a tragedy. But it appears that not all deaths are created (or reported) equal.

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