Improving safety and health in construction: the need for action during procurement, design and planning, construction and maintenance

Nearly 13 million people work officially in the EU construction industry and
possibly many more.

The EU construction industry is estimated to be worth EUR 902 billion a year.
Officially, there are 12.7 million employees in the sector, equivalent to 7.9 %
of the total EU workforce. The real number, however, is likely to be
substantially higher as it is estimated that a significant proportion of the
labour force in construction is undeclared in the industry.

The Bilbao-based European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has published a
brochure to adress the problems in this sector.

Health and safety

The construction sector has one of the worst health and safety records in the
EU. Using the latest available statistics from the EU-15 Member States, more
than 1 200 workers are killed each year, which is equivalent to 13 employees in
every 100 000, i.e. more than twice the average of other sectors.

Nearly 850 000 construction workers suffered accidents that entailed over three
days' loss of work in 1999.

In the 10 new Member States, it is estimated that construction accounts for 20
% of all work-related accidents.

The incidence rate of non-fatal accidents in construction is nearly twice the
average of the other work sectors. Falling from heights is one of the biggest
problems, along with accidents involving transport, both on and off site.
Construction workers suffer musculoskeletal disorders, such as back, neck and
limb problems, significantly more than other workers.

Each year, 600 000 construction workers are exposed to asbestos, a potent
carcinogen that causes fatal diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Carpenters have an elevated risk of contracting nasal cancer as a result of
breathing in wood dust.

Dust generated from cutting or handling crystalline silicabased products, such
as sand, can lead to silicosis, a serious respiratory disease.

Frequent contact with liquid-based substances, such as oils, resins and
cement-based products, can cause skin problems such as occupational dermatitis.
Many construction workers who use machines, such as hand-operated power tools,
drills and mechanised hammers, are exposed to high noise and vibration levels.
High noise levels increase the risk of hearing difficulties and hand­arm
vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a serious disease caused by using vibrating tools.

Research has shown that many of these risks can be eliminated or reduced by
planning decisions taken before any building work starts.

Financial implications

The construction industry in the EU-15 is estimated to be worth EUR 902 billion
a year. Using a UK study, the costs of occupational accidents and ill-health in
the construction sector, including the costs of delays, absenteeism, and health
and insurance charges, among others, accounted for 8.5 % of project costs.
These poor standards of health and safety could cost the EU and its taxpayers
over EUR 75 billion each year. This works out at almost EUR 200 for each member
of the population.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work